Samantha J. Gross is a state government reporter for the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times bureau in Tallahassee, where she covers state government and politics. She recently wrote a great article on medical marijuana in Florida long term care homes. Below are excerpts.
Fears over losing Medicaid and Medicare funding — because federal law still considers all marijuana use illegal — keep most nursing homes and assisted living facilities pot-free, despite recommendations from doctors to card-holding patients who reside there.
Medical marijuana is a burgeoning industry in Florida, and seniors are a burgeoning population. According to population statistics, residents 65 and older will outnumber minors nearly 2 to 1 by 2030.
Despite an environment where the Legislature is dialed in on the expansion of access to medical marijuana in all of its forms, one of the largest groups who would benefit is being left behind.
While using the drug has had success in treating chronic pain, Parkinson’s, glaucoma and other diseases that come with age, many seniors in Florida don’t have access to medical marijuana.
One medical cannabis physician, Dr. Kelly King of Hillsborough County, called nursing homes “a real microcosm of all the problems that the elderly deal with.”
Shad Haston, CEO of the Florida Assisted Living Association, said while some private providers are administering the drug, they warn others to be cautious.
“We have told our members if they participate in Medicaid, or if they intend to participate, they should be leery of allowing it to happen,” he said.
That advice followed “some comments made by then-AG Jeff Sessions that alluded to the federal government’s concerns about it,” he said.
William Barr, the new U.S. Attorney General, spoke in his Senate confirmation hearing about the fact that several states have made laws allowing the use of medical marijuana.
Barr said the “right way to resolve” the matter is legalizing medical marijuana through the federal legislative process. As for state law, he promised not to go after states where it’s legal.
“To the extent that people are complying with the state laws, distribution and production and so forth, we’re not going to go after that,” he said.
In an effort to protect facilities that allow marijuana under their rules, a bill that recently passed through the Senate by Sen. Jeff Brandes made it known that the state cannot ban marijuana use from those places.
“I think for me, it’s making sure we recognize that Floridians have said that marijuana is a medicine and that we treat it as such,” the St. Petersburg Republican said. “That means we keep it as available as an option.”
Weiner, the doctor who prescribed medical cannabis to Crouse’s mother, travels to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to speak about how the elderly can benefit from marijuana treatments.
Since she started recommending cannabis two years ago, she says she’s weaned over 150 patients off opioids and onto medical marijuana instead. The older patients, however, are “totally screwed” by the fact that cannabis is still a federally restricted drug.
“They’re too old to remember to take the medication and nurses can’t give it to them by law. They’re at a loss, and the cost is an issue,” she said. “How does a 90-year-old know to call a company every month and get it shipped to them?”
Weiner said she also recommends cannabinoid oil or CBD, which is now legal under the 2018 Farm Bill that Congress passed in December. Florida, however, has not yet incorporated the federal statute into state law, and CBD products remain illegal. Therefore, most facilities won’t administer CBD treatment or even allow patients to take it on their own.
“[The elderly] are over-medicated, they have so many side effects from medications that cause dizziness, constipation, cognitive confusion,” Weiner said. “[Marijuana or CBD] would be a great way to substitute it for other pharmaceuticals. Until Florida incorporates what just passed in the Farm Bill into this law … it’s still in a waiting zone.”