CANNABIS CULTURE – In April 2018, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled that Tampa resident Joe Redner can grow his own medical cannabis solely for the purpose of his being able to concoct the biomass needed for the juicing protocol recommended by his physician.
This is a landmark ruling in Florida given that the state has some of the most restrictive laws on medical cannabis of all the medically legal states. Although this ruling applies solely to Redner, lawyers predict this could lead to a wave of similar cases.
Cannabis for Juicing
Joe Redner is 77 years old, with stage 4 lung cancer, for which his state-certified doctor prescribed juiced fresh cannabis plants. In its raw form, the cannabis plant contains two volatile cannabinoids — tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic-acid (CBDA). During drying, cannabis goes through a process known as decarboxylation. It removes water and carbon dioxide from the finished product. In addition to creating the dried cannabis that we know and love, the method also converts the THCA to the well-known psychoactive component THC.
This process creates the high that most recreational users are looking for in the product, but it also removes many of the benefits that raw THCA and CBDA have to offer, which is precisely why Joe Redner’s state-certified doctor prescribed him a diet of juiced raw cannabis to help treat the symptoms of his lung cancer. Unfortunately, in the state of Florida, it’s nearly impossible to get fresh cannabis plants.
Medical cannabis in Florida has been around since 2014, when sitting Governor Rick Scott signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of that year. When it went into effect in January 2015, it enabled physicians to order low THC cannabis products for their terminally ill patients. It disallowed the smoking of cannabis and didn’t provide it in any other form.
In March of 2016, this act was expanded to include all forms of ingestible cannabis – patients were still not allowed to smoke, but it made oils, edibles and topical products available. In November 2016, voters of Florida were able to cast their vote on Amendment 2, which expanded medical cannabis use within the state. This amendment needed 60 percent of the vote to pass — it received 71.3 percent.
Amendment 2 expanded the state’s medical cannabis program to include a host of different conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, HIV/AIDS and Parkinson’s. It also gave the prescribing physician the ability to prescribe medical cannabis for any debilitating medical condition as they saw fit.
While this expanded the practice greatly, the types of cannabis that can be used in the state are still very limited. State dispensaries carry only a small number of strains, and it can still be used only in edibles, oils and tinctures — smoking is still off-limits, as is obtaining fresh cannabis plants for juicing. For Render, though, that rule has changed, which could mean something huge in the long run. Only time will tell.
Cannabis and Cancer
There have not been many studies done on the effects of cannabis on cancer, especially stage 4 cancer like Mr. Redner has been diagnosed with. As of the time of this writing, there have also been no studies published that look into the effects, either positive or negative, of the use of cannabis juice.
This lack of information doesn’t mean that there aren’t any benefits from juicing cannabis — just that no clinical trials have been completed as of yet. Any new cancer treatment is required to go through all phases of a clinical trial before it can be considered a safe and viable treatment option.
It has repeatedly been shown, however, that even if cannabis does not affect cancer cells directly, it can help to improve patient quality of life. One large study using cannabis for palliative care in cancer patients showed that it helped to reduce pain and improve quality of life. Of the 1,152 patients interviewed at the beginning of the study, more than 50 percent reported experiencing extreme pain, and only 19 percent considered their quality of life to be good.
After six months of cannabis treatment, the number of patients reporting extreme or unbearable pain dropped to five percent, and the number of patients reporting a good quality of life climbed to 70 percent.
Battles With the Florida Department of Health
In the Sunshine State, only the Department of Health and its licensed organizations are allowed to grow, process or dispense cannabis, according to the department’s website. What they’re allowed to provide, in terms of strain or dosage, is extremely limited too. When Redner discovered this, he took his fight to the next level by suing the Department of Health for the right to grow his own cannabis for juicing.
He isn’t the only one who’s upset with the way the Department of Health in Florida is handling the distribution of medical cannabis. One of the companies that are actually licensed to distribute the drug in the state also opened a suit against the department, claiming that the Department of Health is unfairly restricting the company’s right to open dispensaries in the state.
In the judge’s issued ruling, the word ‘solely’ is bolded and underlined for extreme emphasis. This ruling is limited to Redner alone — no other medical cannabis patient in the state currently has permission to grow or harvest cannabis.
The judge also stated in her ruling that the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use was violating its constitutional duty to adhere to the requirements set by voters when they voted to approve Amendment 2 back in 2016.
This situation isn’t expected to be the end of the battle though. Redner has a long road ahead of him before he can start growing the cannabis that he needs for his treatment. Almost as soon as the ink had dried on Judge Gievers’ ruling, the Department of Health appealed the decision, which will tie this up in court for many more months — a protracted battle that will affect Joe Redner’s quality of life in the meantime.
It’s also expected that no matter who wins the appeals court, this case will continue upward to the state’s Supreme Court. For patients like Redner and the nearly 100,000 others in the state who have obtained their medical cannabis cards but are unable to get their medication, hopefully, this will be the catalyst that will finally convince the Department of Health to do their constitutional duty.
A Win for Medical Cannabis
In response to this successful suit, the Department of Health is facing a number of pending lawsuits as other cannabis users in the state decide to fight back against the totalitarian rule that the department has over cannabis use.
Medical cannabis users in the State of Florida have a long way to go before they can grow their own plants — or even obtain a variety that can be smoked from their local dispensaries. While Florida doesn’t have the strictest laws regarding medical cannabis, they’re one of the only states that has put so much effort into sabotaging their own program in an effort to keep patients from accessing a medication they voted for in the 2016 election.
Hopefully, Joe Redner’s case is the snowflake that starts the avalanche of change in the Sunshine State — even if recreational legalization is a long way off, allowing patients to grow and harvest their own cannabis could be a game changer for many who might not otherwise be able to afford or access it.