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Florida doctors have mixed opinions about medical marijuana


September 30, 2016

As Florida voters weigh their decision to create a state-regulated medical marijuana industry, an obvious question emerges: Where do doctors stand on pot?

The answer is complicated. The medical establishment dismisses weed as scientifically untested, but some individual doctors are breaking ranks to back Amendment 2, the ballot question that will be decided Nov. 8.

The 20,000-member Florida Medical Association opposes Amendment 2. Prescription drugs are approved only after they’re tested in clinical trials featuring thousands of patients, and the organization notes there’s no such proof that cannabis is an effective treatment.

“There is nothing medical about this proposal,” said Tim Stapleton, chief executive of the Florida Medical Association.

Not all physicians agree. Some, like Dr. Kathryn Villano of Miami, support Amendment 2. She said weed can be an effective pain treatment that’s far gentler than the addictive opioids often prescribed by doctors.

“I think marijuana has been shown to be very safe, particularly if it’s not smoked,” Villano said. “Many, many people are dying from opioid overdose. Why not give physicians another tool in their toolbox that can minimize opioid use?”

Villano this year has contributed $907 to People United for Medical Marijuana, the political committee pushing Amendment 2. She’s not alone. Other Florida physicians supporting Amendment 2 include Dr. John Merey of West Palm Beach, who contributed $1,000; Dr. Mitchell Davis of Jupiter ($500); Dr. Hal Jeffrey Levine of Kissimmee ($1,280); Dr. Stephen Blythe of Melbourne ($200); and Dr. Clifford Selsky of Winter Springs ($200).

The measure would let patients with “debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician” buy weed legally through state-regulated dispensaries.

Dr. Bernard Cantor, a retired OB-GYN in Weston who contributed $750 to the pro-pot campaign, dismissed the Florida Medical Association’s opposition as “a knee-jerk reaction.”

“The use of medical marijuana has some very significant benefits,” Cantor said.

Doctors are growing more comfortable with the notion that pot might be a legitimate medicine, said Gregg H. Weiss, founder of Canna Holdings in Wellington. His company hosted a medical conference in West Palm Beach on Saturday that drew 100 doctors.

“There were a lot of skeptics in the audience, but what they really wanted to do was learn,” Weiss said. “The endocannabinoid system isn’t taught in school.”

Florida law already allows one form of medical marijuana. Sales of so-called non-euphoric marijuana oil began this summer to patients with cancer, seizure disorders and other ailments.

That type of cannabis, also known as Charlotte’s Web, is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which makes users feel high, but it’s packed with cannabadiol, or CBD. CBD is thought to ease convulsions, inflammation, anxiety and nausea.

Richard Young, head of Modern Health Concepts, a newly licensed CBD maker in South Miami, said he has given physicians tours of his facilities. He aims to assure doctors that his product is made under precise, exacting conditions — and that it might prove effective when prescription drugs fail.

“Doctors would prefer clinical trials,” Young said. “At the same time, they are looking for alternatives, because their patient is not necessarily improving with the current approach.”