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Panel addresses dangers of medical marijuana

By Staff | Jun 10, 2010

A panel of marijuana experts addressed addiction counselors Wednesday, describing the dangers of medical marijuana in Florida.

The 9th Annual Conference on Addictive Disorders at the Harborside Event Center in Fort Myers brought together counselors in workshops on mental health treatment, gambling compulsion, domestic violence and the use of prescription drugs.

According to Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation and St. Petersburg-based Save our Society from Drugs lobby, the movement to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes is being carried out by the same groups who’ve tried legalizing the drug for decades.

Fay expects a proposal legalizing medical marijuana to make its way on a Florida ballot by 2012.

“The groups who have funded these initiatives across the country are groups with a long history of drug legalization,” she said.

The use of medicinal marijuana has been passed in 15 states and the District of Columbia, she said. Seventeen other states had bills introduced but never passed and five other states – Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois and Delaware – have bills pending. Florida has not legalized medical marijuana.

Marijuana is regularly prescribed for patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS or glaucoma, said Fay, but according to statistics from states where the drug is legal, those taking it report they use it for “undefined pain,” which leaves officials like Fay apprehensive of why they are prescribed marijuana in the first place.

“You can clearly see we have a scam going on here in the country,” she said.

Another panelist, Lt. Chris Reeves with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, said he is concerned about regulating medical marijuana if it is legalized. He said officers already have a difficult time reigning in abuses with legal prescription drugs.

Rather than purchasing illegal drugs off the street like cocaine or crystal meth, more people are turning to their medicine cabinets for prescriptions which contain narcotics.

“We can’t get a grip or stronghold on our prescription monitoring plan,” he said. “How can we get a grip on marijuana legalized in our community if we can’t get our prescription drugs that are legal drugs?”

Reeves said another concern for officers is how to detect people who are driving while under the influence of marijuana. Finding if a person is under the influence of this drug is more difficult than holding a field sobriety test to detect if a driver has been drinking alcohol.

Pat Barton, a member of DrugWatch International and a legislative appointee to the Florida Substance Abuse and Mental Health Corporation, said she is worried that no oversight exists for medical marijuana.

Most prescription drugs have to go through a rigorous approval process with the Food and Drug Administration or other equivalent agencies, she said, but there is no such agency examining marijuana prescriptions in states where it is legal.

The panelists each stressed that people in the community need to be educated about the real effects of marijuana.

“We have very little time to get ready for this. We think there are some things that can be done in advance in order to fend this off – teach the community and families that marijuana is not medicine and to educate and inform our state legislators,” said Barton.