By Daniel Casciato
As a child, Stephanie Myers vividly remembers the “This is Your Brain on Drugs” anti-drug PSA sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in the 1980s. Those PSAs and the image of the egg in a frying pan, representing drugs and your brain, became a cultural phenomenon. Like many people her age, the ads had an impact on Myers’ opinion on drugs.
But her attitude changed when it came to legalizing marijuana. Myers, a Democrat running for Florida House District 93, a seat now held by Republican George Moraitis who is term limited, began to appreciate the fact that marijuana was a better and natural alternative for people who experienced pain from debilitating illnesses.
“If people are going to self-medicate anyway, it should be with something that is more safe for their bodies and for society,” she says.
Myers’ change of heart reflects a shift among the broader population nationwide. In 2006, only 32 percent of people surveyed in a Pew Research Center survey supported marijuana legalization. Ten years later that number rose to 57 percent.
Myers sees medical marijuana as a much better alternative to opioids as well.
“We need to get people on more natural substances especially when you consider the current opioid epidemic,” she explains. “A recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics has found that life expectancy in this country has declined again for the second year in a row. Much of that has to do with the opioid epidemic—there’s been a 21% increase of drug overdoses in the past year.”
According to the report referenced by Myers, a baby born in the United States in 2016 could expect to live 78.6 years. This is a decrease of more than a month from 2015 and more than two months from 2014.
If elected, Myers hopes to improve accessibility to medical cannabis. Last year, Amendment 2 – the ballot initiative approved by over 71 percent of Florida voters in November passed allowing non-euphoric cannabis use for a select group of patients. While medical cannabis was approved by a majority of the state’s electorate, access to it remains an issue. Currently only 21 dispensaries have been approved to open across Florida’s 67 counties.
Myers says that is not enough dispensaries.
“Twenty-one dispensaries is too little for as many counties we have,” she says. “The state overwhelmingly passed this and we need to provide accessibility to patients.”
In addition, the process of applying for and receiving a medical marijuana identification card has been taking too long. Soon after the legislation was passed last year, the Florida Department of Health, began the process of issuing ID cards for residents. The application for patients and caregivers requires a $75 fee, a copy of a government-issued ID, and a passport photo. All patients must have the ID card to purchase medical cannabis.
These are the medical conditions that qualify for a medical cannabis card:
• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
• Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
• Crohn’s disease
• Parkinson’s disease
• Multiple sclerosis
• Conditions of the same kind or class, or comparable in pain and chronicity as the previous conditions
• A terminal condition which a doctor has diagnosed to cause significant impairment and is irreversible, is not considered treatable, and will result in death within 1 year after diagnosis.
Upon approval of your submitted application, the state will email the card ID number. This will allow you to purchase and possess cannabis until your patient card arrives in the mail. However, it’s been taking an average of 45 days for residents to receive that initial email with your ID card number.
“We need to speed up the process for people to gain access,” says Myers. “One issue is that there’s not enough staff to process the applications. We need to staff it correctly to get these applications processed faster.”
Finally, Myers hopes to improve the quality control over medical cannabis as well.
“Patients are putting this into their bodies,” she says. “The end product is important so we need to take care of it and regulate what is being dispensed. It should be of high quality and not have harmful ingredients in it.”
A native South Floridian, Stephanie Myers is a former board member of the Broward County ACLU, a member of the Broward DEC, and the Broward Progressive Caucus. Previously, she served as the lead organizer of the 2017 Women’s Rally in South Florida.
For more information on Stephanie Myers, visit www.myersforflorida.com