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Nikki Fried: Democracy up in smoke

“This is absurd. And frankly, it’s just plain wrong.”

Nikki FriedTwenty-seven months have passed since Floridians overwhelmingly voted for the right to access medical marijuana.

But you wouldn’t know it by the way the previous administration obstructed access, slowed implementation, and denied the will of the people.

Nearly 200,000 patients in Florida have used this medicine for relief from terminal and terrible conditions. Yet many are still seeking relief from suffering — and they need access to the flower in its natural form.

Oils, tinctures, sprays, and other forms of delivery have proved invaluable, but smokable medical marijuana can be life-changing. Physicians like Dr. Sanjay Gupta have touted the medicinal “entourage effect” of marijuana achievable only when consumed in whole plant form.

Cathy Jordan suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Diana Dodson has HIV and neuropathy. For them — and countless others — smokable medical marijuana is the delivery mechanism they need. It makes their lives not only tolerable but possible.

After trying other forms of medical marijuana, their doctors have recommended continuing to smoke the plant — and those doctors believe stopping could present irreversible problems.

These are just two of the stories we’ve heard. Yet each day, people across our state break the law just to get the treatment they need to stay alive.

This is absurd. And frankly, it’s just plain wrong.

I’m doing my part to right that wrong, by appointing the state’s first-ever cannabis director, and introducing new rules in the coming weeks on medical marijuana edibles and hemp production from which CBD products are derived. But delivering on Amendment 2’s promise requires all of Florida’s leaders working together.

Even though the appeal to the lawsuit blocking smokable medical marijuana hasn’t yet been dropped, I remain encouraged by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ intentions. I’m hopeful that Speaker José Oliva, President Bill Galvano, and Florida lawmakers will quickly pass legislation delivering full relief to long-suffering patients.

Let me be clear — I understand reasonable restrictions, including ensuring only adults can access smokable medical marijuana, proper packaging and labeling, and limitations on dosing. But the details and treatment recommendations should be left up to physicians.

The 2016 amendment didn’t limit the forms of medical marijuana available to patients, or call for anyone other than doctors to make medical decisions. But what it did call for is a constitutionally guaranteed right to access medical marijuana “as determined by a licensed Florida physician” — not as determined by Tallahassee politicians.

We don’t see this kind of interference when doctors prescribe cholesterol drugs, antidepressants, opioids, cancer-fighting medicines or erectile dysfunction aids. That’s because people inherently understand that a patient’s course of treatment is a decision that belongs between a doctor and that patient.

Every patient is different, every human body is different, and every person responds differently to medical treatment. For many patients, the best method is smoking the natural flower, just as their doctor ordered.

Adults whose symptoms are relieved, and whose lives are made possible, by smoking medical marijuana in its whole plant form should be able to do just that — just as 6.5 million Floridians intended.

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Nicole “Nikki” Fried is Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

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