Though medical cannabis has been legal in Florida for more than 1-1/2 years, there is still much confusion—as well as concern—about who qualifies to be a patient, and the legislative hurdles that a person has to overcome in order to find relief from various conditions. Still, the good news is that many Floridians are finding relief with medical cannabis, and that progress is being made—albeit slowly.

“The bottom line is that anybody who wants to be a medical cannabis patient in Florida can be,” explained Barry Gordon, M.D., of the Compassionate Cannabis Clinic. “You need to find a doctor who will advocate for you, and who knows the right questions to ask to work within the law.

“For example, chronic pain is not well handled in Florida law because it is supposed to be caused by one of the 10 conditions enumerated in the law, but fibromyalgia, or phantom pain cause by amputation, are not covered under these conditions,” he added. “You need to look at how the law is written to see if there is the same kind of classification, or a condition that is comparable.”

Dr. Gordon gives the example of patients who have to consistently take steroids or benzodiazepine for chronic pain or Ambien for sleep, which results in a high level of anxiety. “People know that they can’t take these types of drugs forever; society has shown us the disastrous results that come from using narcotics, including addiction or even death,” he said. “Patients are looking for a natural alternative, and cannabis is not physically addictive and has never killed anyone.

“People who want to be in the program deserve to be in the program, and to have access to a high-quality, highly tested product in the strain and specificity they need,” he added.

Patients who turn to the black market for pain relief won’t find what they need, according to Dr. Gordon, because no one provides a combined THC/CBD product. “The CBD component and other helpful cannabinoids have been bred out because they diminish the intoxicant effects of THC,” he explained. “They can’t get THC in the CBD world, because in the 30 CBD shops in Sarasota County that sell hemp-based products, including smokable hemp flower, those products have less than a .3 percent level of THC. And you don’t know if the products are clean or have mold or fungus.

“Only in the legitimate medical cannabis world, which is very regulated, can you get both,” he added. “And every patient deserves to have a safer product.” Dr. Gordon suggests that new patients first ask their own doctors to recommend medical cannabis, but if that is unsuccessful, to contact him or any of the other doctors on the state’s medical cannabis website.

“Any doctor in the state can sign up to recommend medical cannabis, but many choose not to or can’t because of the hospital system with which they are affiliated,” he explained. “Some aren’t comfortable with it because it wasn’t taught in medical school.

“Not all practices are equal, though, so do your research,” he added. “Find out if this is something that the doctor does every day; check their references, and even see what people have to say on Facebook.”
Patients shouldn’t be embarrassed about asking how cannabis can help, either. “Thirty-three percent of my patients have never used cannabis before,” said Dr. Gordon. “They never even knew anyone who used it! They are fascinated that people can use it and still
pay bills and raise kids.

“The fact is, medical cannabis is not a social destructor,” he added.

“I’ve never had to resuscitate a cannabis addict in the ER, or treat a wife who was beaten up by her husband while he was on cannabis. I’ve never lost a professional partner to cannabis, like I have to drugs or alcohol.”
Despite its positive effects, Dr. Gordon says that those who are in favor of medical cannabis still face an uphill battle in Florida.

“The Republican leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott and Surgeon General and Secretary of the Florida Department of Health Celeste Philip, push back at every level,” he said. “Even though John Morgan won his smoking case, the state appealed within minutes. In another trial about the right to grow cannabis, despite winning, we have to go to the Supreme Court to testify again.

“This will continue as long as we have Republican leaders,” he said, adding that he invites politicians of all parties to visit his clinic to learn more about the benefits of medical cannabis.
“I see remarkable results every day,” he added. “I love conventional healthcare, but there needs to be an alternative to opioids to help people.”

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