By Jackie Rothman

When a state discusses legalizing adult-use cannabis, there are many concerns shared by healthcare providers. In Florida, we are seeing a strong push toward legalizing recreational use. Whether it will happen or not is anyone’s guess.

One of the worries that healthcare providers have is the perspective shift. What will happen if patients with medical conditions who benefit from doctor-supervised cannabis opt out of the Florida medical cannabis program?

Based on the behavior of patients in other states that moved to legalize recreational cannabis, some patients may leave the program. But many will stay. And the number of patients that remain registered with OMMU might fluctuate, depending on how the recreational laws are established.

The Smart & Safe Florida initiative has gathered enough voter signatures to allow recreational use to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Now healthcare providers are asking what will happen if adult-use (recreational) cannabis becomes legal in Florida.

The Benefits of Doctor-Supervised Cannabis

Patients need the advice and guidance of physicians to make a safe and informed choice about medical cannabis. And physicians who conduct medical cannabis health evaluations spend time discussing more than the qualifying health condition.

Doctors closely examine the patient’s medical history, including the patient’s current diagnosis. A review of current prescription medications and supplements is also done to ensure that cannabis is not contraindicated.

The physician also has an opportunity to ask about symptoms and advise the patient on routes and certain types of strains which may help the patient meet their wellness goal. And the patient knows that if they have a question or if their medical condition changes, they can talk to their recommending physician.

Medical conditions can change over time. Establishing a relationship with a provider with extensive knowledge about cannabis provides a reliable resource for the patient. As their health needs evolve, the physician can help ensure that cannabis remains a safe therapeutic choice for them.

Challenges of Recreational Cannabis Use and Population Health

The first concern is always public safety. Because when you remove the guidance of a certified physician, there are many risks to consider. How educated are Florida residents regarding potential health risks?

When you remove the physician from the equation of legalized cannabis, it can increase risks for patients—particularly those with complex medical and health conditions. When patients are not enrolled in the medical cannabis program in Florida, they will not be required to schedule initial or follow-up appointments with doctors.

One study published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship on October 17, 2022, by researchers at Florida Atlantic University stated that cannabis was a “legitimate public health concern.” However, much of the data referred to synthetic cannabis (Delta-THC) products. Not medical cannabis produced by reputable dispensaries.

The challenge (if recreational cannabis is legalized in Florida) will be educating all residents over twenty-one (21) on responsible and safe use. And that will require statewide initiatives and ongoing campaigns for public safety.

Why Many Patients May Stay in the Medical Cannabis Program

A large number of patients rely on the advice that they get from their physicians about medical cannabis. When you are coping with a complex health condition, the last thing you want to do is worry whether cannabis could be harming your health. It is easier to speak directly with a provider to get the answers you need.

In other states that have initiated recreational cannabis, benefits were established to encourage people to join (and remain) in the patient registry. In some states, patients with a medical card are permitted to purchase larger quantities of cannabis per month. Sometimes higher potency cannabis is also limited to patients with a medical card.

One strategy that many states have used is a differential excise tax system. Recreational cannabis consumers may pay a substantially higher retail tax on products, devices, and supplies than patients with medical cards.

Some states, like New Jersey, eliminated all sales tax on cannabis for registered patients. The state sales tax on medical cannabis purchases is currently $0. That cost-saving benefit helped keep patients on the New Jersey medical cannabis registry.

And it could work in Florida as well.

Jackie Rothman is Chief Operating Officer at DocMJ.