Health officials pushed to consider cannabis as an alternative to addiction-causing opioids.
The expansion of cannabis access is moving forward by fits and starts in Florida. But for one state senator, a key group of the state’s residents are still being underserved by current regulations. On Wednesday, Gary Farmer, a Broward County Democrat, pushed for the elimination of the $75 annual fee for medical marijuana identification cards for veterans.
In front of the state Senate’s health care appropriations committee, Farmer expressed his dismay that Florida’s 1.5 million vets “should have to pay for the right for the eligibility to get legal medical treatment,” reports Orlando Weekly.
The state senator reminded the committee of the myriad costs that veterans must navigate in the state’s medical system, including fees for doctor visits and treatment costs.
“So many of our veterans are just struggling so much and I think many of them, frankly, aren’t even aware that this alternative treatment is there,” said Farmer.
His remarks come at a time when Florida officials are pushing to widen access to the state’s medical marijuana program, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters back in 2016. Governor Ron DeSantis has issued an ultimatum to legislators to remove a ban on smokable medical cannabis by March 15.
On Feb. 2, a Leon County circuit judge formally upbraided state health officials and legislators for a cap on cannabis dispensaries that she said, “erects barriers that needlessly increase patients’ costs, risks, and inconvenience, delay access to products, and reduce patients’ practical choice, information, privacy, and safety.”
Farmer’s recent remarks underline the fact that veteran access to cannabis is no inconsequential issue. Studies have confirmed that US veterans are far more likely than the general population to seek medical cannabis and support the widening of patient access to the federally restricted drug.
Veterans’ attraction to medical marijuana is not surprising, given that they are more likely to suffer from chronic pain and many of the other health conditions that have been proven to improve with cannabis usage. The US Department of Veterans Affairs has found that between 11 and 20 percent of Iraq War veterans suffer from PTSD, which studies have suggested may be alleviated by the use of cannabis.
Despite the fact that some veterans have literally been the first in line to buy marijuana when their state legalized the drug, cannabis access for many is fraught. In Missouri, veteran health officials recently clarified that given federal prohibition, veterans receiving VA care are at risk of losing their benefits entirely. In Washington, a bi-partisan duo of congresspeople sponsored legislation last year that would have supported vets seeking cannabis access.
Farmer also noted to the committee that, should veteran access to medical cannabis expand, vets may be less likely to seek opioid pain medications that have a high potential to be abused. The White House’s Secretary of Veteran Affairs Robert Wilkie has indicated that veterans are twice as likely to die from a drug overdose involving an opioid. The national military health system has devoted efforts in recent years to combat the issue.