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Smoking gaining popularity among Florida medical marijuana patients

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Physicians wrote nearly 1.4 million orders certifying medical marijuana for 232,586 Floridians between Oct. 1, 2019, and March 30, 2020, a new report released by the state shows.

Members of two of the state’s medical licensing boards were set to discuss the data during a Zoom conference call on Aug. 27. But officials shut down the meeting in less than five minutes, after a hacker interrupted the call.

The boards will produce a final version of the report with data ranging from Oct. 1, 2019 through Sept. 30, 2020 before the end of the year.

The six-month report released in August provides members of the Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine a snapshot of the state’s medical marijuana market, along with physicians'--- and patients'--- behaviors.

During the six-month period ending March 31, 2,604 physicians were qualified to authorize qualified patients to receive medical marijuana. To qualify, a physician must take education courses about medical marijuana. Qualified patients are Florida residents with a qualified patient-identification card who have been added to the state’s medical marijuana database.

The report also showed that 270,710 Floridians were certified to obtain medical marijuana with euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, during the six-month period ending March 31. About 86 percent of patients received a certification for smoking, which is the most popular route of administration for medical marijuana. During the report’s six-month time span, physicians placed 795,019 orders for smokable medical marijuana. Oral administration, with 787,218 orders, was the second most popular route of administration, the report showed.

Oral administration is the most popular form of administration for low-THC cannabis, with 737,291 orders during the six-month period ending March 31, according to the report. Orders for smoking low-THC cannabis trailed slightly, with 716,715 orders during the six-month period.

The report is based on information collected from a number of statewide databases, including one maintained by the Office of Medical Marijuana Use in the Florida Department of Health.

Florida voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in the state, but lawmakers initially banned smokable marijuana. Gov. Ron DeSantis successfully pushed lawmakers to eliminate the smoking ban March 2019.

Florida patients can use medical marijuana to treat 10 specific conditions, such as cancer, HIV, AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, patients who suffer from conditions that are the same kind as the 10 specific conditions, patients who have terminal illnesses and patients who suffer from chronic non-malignant pain can qualify.

Some patients have more than one qualifying condition, and patients can be certified for low-THC cannabis or types of marijuana that can make them feel high, or both.

The top three disorder classifications for patients are post-traumatic stress disorder, medical conditions comparable to those delineated in the constitutional amendment, and chronic pain management. Thirty-four percent of the certifications between Oct. 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020 were for post-traumatic stress disorder, a sharp increase from the previous 12-month report in which PTSD made up 23.9 percent of the disorder classifications.

Meanwhile, certifications for treatment of chronic pain have sharply declined, accounting for just 17.7 percent of the certifications in the six-month period ending March 31. In the previous 12-month report, pain management accounted for 36.2 percent of the certifications.

Members of the Board of Medicine and the Board of Osteopathic Medicine were eager to discuss the report’s findings at the Aug. 27 meeting so they could begin considering proposed regulations regarding practice standards that physicians should follow for certifying smoking as the best route of administration. The rules, which could become controversial, are required to be adopted by both medical boards by July 2021.

The public audio of the joint board meeting trails off after 4 minutes and 23 seconds, but Board of Osteopathic Medicine chairman Joel Rose, who was on the Zoom meeting, said the “Zoom bomber’s” comments were racy and laden with obscenities.

The meeting has been rescheduled for Nov. 20.