The 2020 Legislative Session is well underway in Florida, and another year brings from the House GOP another thinly veiled attempt to milk more money out of Florida cannabis patients (at worst), or to overreach into our basic rights as Floridians and Americans (at best.)
A bit of context for those of you who aren’t familiar with the history of proposed THC caps in Florida: In 2019, House Representative Ray Rodrigues (R – Lee County) attempted to impose a 10% THC cap on medical cannabis flower in a number of different ways – first as a standalone bill, and then attaching it as a provision in a completely unrelated bill at the end of the legislative session. The measure was widely condemned by patients, corporations in the Florida medical cannabis industry, medical professionals, cannabis advocates, and fellow lawmakers alike. Ultimately, the bill died in the Senate after some back-and-forth between the members of the two legislative branches.
One year later, talk of a potential cap of THC has arisen again – this time from Speaker of the House Jose Oliva (R – Miami-Dade County). However, Oliva wants to take the cap a step further and apply it to all medical cannabis products in Florida.
It doesn’t take much thought to realize how detrimental any cap on THC will be to cannabis patients. Each patient will have to consume more product to get the same levels of relief, which will not only cost them much more money over time, but will also increase the likelihood of any adverse effects as caused by their method of consumptions – particularly for patients who get the best relief from smoking the dried cannabis flower.
As a cannabis patient myself (11 years including before legalization), the prospect of any limits to my medication resonates deeply with me. Cannabis is the only medicine that provides me relief from my depression, anxiety, and PTSD – and it’s the only medicine I take.
I’m going to take the most objective approach possible to laying out the arguments of Jose Oliva and others who support a THC cap, and then I’ll explain why these are simply not solidly backed by science, and offer some personal anecdotes as well.
Why do Florida Republicans want to cap THC?
Before we answer this question, let’s talk about alcohol. There’s a point to make that will be important to keep in mind once we get to answering this.
Alcohol Caps? Psychosis?
This is jumping from medical to adult use cannabis a bit by using this comparison, but it is an important one to address in principle. We don’t limit the percentage of alcohol we drink. Any Floridian age 21 or older can walk into a liquor store and buy as much (and as potent) alcohol as they want. They can buy enough to drink themselves to death. They can buy enough to induce Alcohol Psychosis, a well-documented (but rare) side effect of excessive alcohol consumption. In short, any adult in Florida has access to enough alcohol to seriously hurt themselves or others at any given time. And it happens, unfortunately, far too often.
Back to cannabis – why do Jose Oliva and others like him want to limit the amount of THC we can have in our medical cannabis? Well, it boils down to one main argument that has been the common denominator between the efforts to cap THC in 2019, and the talk of it in 2020: they claim that they are concerned about the potential for cannabis-induced psychosis.
Mind you, there is currently no scientifically-proven link between cannabis use and new psychosis. There have been some studies coming out of Europe that claim cannabis users are at an increased risk for psychosis – and this have been a favorite reference for the lawmakers who support the THC cap. But the study itself indicates that some variables are not fully known or able to be connected; in short, the study was not able to prove that the high THC levels are more likely to cause psychosis. Other studies question this method as well, and consider other factors, like pesticides or cutting agents, as being potentially responsible for any link between cannabis use and psychosis.
I won’t bore you with a drawn out argument here, but you get the gist. Jose Oliva is basing his argument off an idea that really doesn’t have consistent scientific research to back it. And even if it were proven, why aren’t we looking at other more commonly used substances – like alcohol – if we are truly concerned about the mental health of Floridians?
“Not your mother’s weed”
This argument is a classic amongst opponents of cannabis, and it’s been used for almost 100 years now. The premise is always that today’s cannabis is much more potent and scary than what your folks were smoking 20-30 years prior. Jose Oliva also directly stated this to reporters from the Sun Sentinel in this article.
“I think it’s important that we pass it. We’re seeing different strains. Now in Europe, there are strains that are 100 times stronger,” Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said. “And we’re starting to learn that this has some schizophrenia-type results, and especially in young developing brains. And so it is, in fact, a priority for us.”Jose Oliva to News Service of Florida, 02.14.2020
What Jose is saying is completely untrue, and a little simple math can prove it. We’ll even look at different time periods, because yes – cannabis potency and growing skills have increased through time, but not in the way that people like Oliva suggest. While it’s hard to reliably say how concentrated the THC in the marijuana of the 1970s was, current estimates are that it ranged anywhere from 1% to 4% for “regular” bud, and up to 10% for what was considered “premium” at the time. But even these figures could be inaccurate, as one of the government’s most common use of testing THC – gas chromatography – altered the chemical profile of the cannabis during tested, which could have lead to a breakdown of the THC molecules, and therefore a lower potency.
So Jose Oliva says there are new strains in Europe recently that are 100 times stronger. Oliva doesn’t provide a reference, so we aren’t sure what cannabis he’s referring to. But let’s take the low number from the studies we were talking about earlier – 1% THC. According to Oliva’s statement, this means that there must be new strains that are 100% THC in Europe! This isn’t true – cannabis flowers are now testing around 30-33% THC on the high end.
While there are cannabis concentrates that clock in to the 90% THC range, Oliva’s argument doesn’t account for the fact that nearly all medical cannabis patients will use far less of a product if the potency of cannabinoids like THC are higher. This brings me to my next point:
Many cannabis patients are familiar with the term “microdosing”, but others may not know the term. Microdosing is the practice of using much smaller amounts of a substance for maximum medical benefit efficiency.
This is what I do with my own cannabis use to treat my conditions. While the previous generations may have been smoking cannabis in the sub-10% THC range, they typically smoked more of it. Multiple cannabis cigarettes in single sessions weren’t unheard of – this could use anywhere from one to several grams of raw cannabis flower at once to achieve the desired medical effects. That means more burnt material inhaled, and more potential for harmful side effects.
Most of the medical cannabis flower I get in Florida is between 15% to 25% THC, with a few outliers on either side. And because of this increased potency, I use much less at once. Instead of taking a full cannabis cigarette to the face every time I need to medicate, I use one or two hits every few hours. This means less irritation to my throat, and it means my products last longer – which means I spend less money. With the costs of being a Florida medical cannabis patient already extremely high in comparison to other legal medical cannabis states, I really appreciate every dollar I can stretch.
I said at the beginning that we would ultimately take an objective look at this. We’ll summarize all this in a format that is simple and easy to understand: Pros and Cons. I will include Jose Oliva’s perspective in this as well.
Pros of THC Cap
- On the chance that there is in fact a direct link between cannabis use and increased risk for psychosis (which is currently not scientifically proven), keeping THC levels limited could possibly reduce overall risk of psychosis development. This is essentially the sole argument for the cap.
Cons of THC Cap
- Costs will go up. Patients will have to spend much more money to get enough product for relief of their conditions. Conditions like chronic pain sometimes require high amounts of cannabinoids, which means those patients could see extreme increases in costs that are already prohibitive.
- Patients will need to use more product. For those who get the best relief from smoking cannabis, this could potentially increase the likelihood of negative effects as a result from inhaling a combusted material.
- Patients will return to the black market. For some, weaker medicine simply isn’t an option, and they will return to the black market – and all the risks that come with it. If anyone is in doubt of this, just look at medical cannabis social media; people are already doing this due to the high costs now – and that’s without a THC cap.
- This will hurt the industry and the Floridians it employs. The Florida medical cannabis industry provided 15,498 jobs for Floridians in 2019. If a THC cap is enforced, the entire industry will have to start over from scratch. Current grow operations focus on genetics that produce THC levels higher than 10%. These crops will all have to be killed off and replaced with new genetics, which takes time, research, and money. This will inevitably shock the industry, leading to product shortages, higher costs, and potential layoffs. In short, hundreds of thousands of Floridians will be very negatively impacted if a THC cap is to happen.
- Patients may not find relief in weaker cannabis, leading them back to more dangerous drugs. The fact is, most cannabis strains that are under 10% THC, are simply inferior in their medical value (with the exception of high-CBD products for certain conditions.) Some patients will not be able to find the same relief in their cannabis. Many won’t be able to afford it. This will lead to many Floridians returning to more dangerous substances to relieve their ailments: Opioids, SSRIs, Benzodiazepines… the list goes on. A quick Google search of any of those medications shows a much more daunting profile of side effects than any potential side effects of cannabis use. After reading so many success stories of Floridians who were able to stop these drugs and have a much higher quality of life after switching to cannabis, the prospect of yanking that way from them is disheartening.
It is my hope that this article provides a new perspective for anyone who is unaware of the damages that a cap on THC (or any cannabinoid) in cannabis will undoubtedly cause. The potential benefits of imposing such a cap are far outweighed by the adverse consequences of doing so. Frankly, there are much more important issues that deserve the time of the legislators – and our tax dollars. Medical cannabis has helped hundreds of thousands of Floridians find a better quality of life. It’s working. Leave it alone.
What can patients and advocates do?
The prospect of a THC cap will be discussed this coming week – the week of 02.17.2020. Contact your local representatives and senators and let them know why you oppose any cap on THC. A quick google search can provide you with resources to contact them.
Here is contact information for Jose Oliva and Ray Rodrigues, currently the two biggest proponents of a THC cap:
District Office: (305) 364-3114
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5110
District Office: (239) 433-6501
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5076
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