If trial lawyers and out-of-state billionaires have their way, Florida will join states like California and Colorado by creating a massive industry selling things like marijuana cookies, lollipops and candies — all in the name of "medicine." In those states, the average "medical" marijuana user is a 30-something white male with a history of drug abuse, and no history of HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis, or any of the conditions touted by advocates in campaign mode.
Asking the question "Is marijuana medicine?" is similar to asking, "Is opium medicine?" The answer is that it can be, but not in its raw or smoked form.
One thing is for sure: The medical marijuana initiative put on the ballot with big bucks — and without support from groups like the Florida Medical Association — is the wrong way to go if we care about harnessing the real medical potential of marijuana for the truly seriously ill.
Rather than extract ingredients in the marijuana plant — like we do with the opium plant when we create morphine, for example — proponents of the Florida initiative advocate vehemently for smoking marijuana. But the science on smoking any drug is clear: It is dangerous. And while parts of the marijuana plant have medical value, the Institute of Medicine said in its landmark report: "Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs … smoked marijuana, however, is a crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances … and should not be generally recommended…"
But that does not mean we shouldn't be compassionate. We must continue to work on bringing promising medications to market, like naboximols, an oral mouth spray developed from a blend of two marijuana extracts (one strain is high in THC and the other in CBD, which counteracts THC's psychoactive effect), which is on the brink of U.S. approval. It is clear to anyone following this story that it is possible to develop marijuana-based medications in accordance with modern scientific standards — and many more such legitimate medications are just around the corner.
However, the current ballot initiative in Florida will result in "pot mills," not unlike the devastating "pill mills" that have made our state infamous. Under the proposed law, anyone could get marijuana for virtually any reason. It is then no wonder that no major medical association has come out in favor of smoked marijuana for widespread medical use.
We don't have to guess as to what will happen to our state if this initiative passes. Research has shown that marijuana use, especially among youth, will likely go up. Accidental ingestion among kids will send them to the ER (as is happening in Colorado now). And because marijuana intoxication doubles the risk of a car crash, public safety will be compromised.
That doesn't mean we should be happy with doing nothing. There are current medications based on marijuana available to legitimate patients. In fact, Marinol, a pill comprised of marijuana's active ingredient THC, is available from pharmacies today. And the Food and Drug Administration recently began an experimental research program to make medications based on marijuana's other ingredients available for patients with very serious conditions, such as intractable epilepsy. We should applaud and expand these efforts.
Indeed, medical marijuana should really only be about bringing relief to the sick and dying, and it should be done in a responsible manner that formulates the active components of the drug in a non-smoked form that delivers a defined dose. That is not what Floridians are being sold with this initiative. And that is why we should say no to the trial lawyers and yes to science. We can do better.
Kevin A. Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida, College of Medicine, Division of Addiction Medicine, is author of "Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana."