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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014
Commentary

Calling someone a caregiver doesn’t make it so


Published:

One of Florida’s foremost cancer hospitals takes the job of caregiver so seriously it holds a “Caregiver Academy” for those caring for patients following stem-cell transplants.

Caring for someone who is very ill is a huge responsibility that can involve addressing basic needs such as bathing, eating, continence, dressing, toileting and transferring.

A major element of Amendment 2, the ballot question Floridians will vote on in November, concerns caregivers who could assist with a recipient’s use of marijuana.

Under the proposed amendment to the state constitution, anyone could qualify as a “personal caregiver” as long as they are 21 years old. Training or background checks are not required. Personal caregivers could obtain and administer marijuana to up to five patients.

I find this marijuana caregiver language to be daunting in light of a state fiscal analysis that estimates that nearly a quarter million people will register to become caregivers to obtain and administer marijuana for up to five recipients.

According to those estimates by the Florida Department of Health, 1,250,000 Floridians could potentially receive marijuana through the caregiver provisions of Amendment 2 alone, and that doesn’t account for those who will just get a doctor’s recommendation and buy it themselves.

A published report out of Massachusetts — where caregivers are supposed to provide marijuana to only one recipient — highlights one caregiver who estimates he was supplying 350 recipients.

Where would they buy it?

The DOH fiscal analysis estimates that there will be close to 1,800 pot shops licensed statewide. Amendment 2 describes these dispensaries as one “that acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes (including development of related products such as food, tinctures, aerosols, oils or ointments), transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana, products containing marijuana, related supplies, or educational materials to qualifying patients or their personal caregivers and is registered by the Department.”

These numbers are astonishing in light of the Amendment 2 proponents insisting that this proposed massive marijuana infrastructure is only to help those with debilitating diseases. However, figures from Colorado, which DOH used for its estimates, show that less than 6 percent of medical marijuana cards went to those suffering from debilitating conditions such as cancer, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

The average age of a card holder is 42, and the majority of patients report they need it for severe pain.

In California, which has the most significant history with marijuana for medical purposes, the average recipient of medical marijuana is a 32 year old male. In fact, one analysis stated “available evidence does suggest fairly strongly that the people who use medical marijuana for cancer or AIDS is a small percentage of all users.”

In 2009 the California Supreme Court felt the need to clamp down on the caregiver system where abuses ran rampant. The court said the caregiver should be a person who provides care, housing, and sustenance. It’s someone that does something beyond just giving out marijuana.

And who will oversee these 250,000 “caregivers” and 1,800 marijuana shops? According to DOH’s fiscal analysis, regulators will hire 13 inspectors and provide them with 10 automobiles and 10 tablets. Really?

Let’s step back and think this through. Amendment 2 is less about compassion and more about a back-door way to legalize marijuana in Florida.

David Gross, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist in private practice and chair of the Scientific and Medical Forum on Drug Abuse.

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