ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida — Thirty-six states, four territories, and our nation’s capital have all legalized some form of marijuana. The state of Florida became the 22nd state to do so in 2014, but only for medicinal purposes in cases involving terminally ill patients. However, it was not until the Florida State Senate passed Senate Bill 8A, the Medical Use of Marijuana Act, in 2017 that the medical marijuana industry really took off.
This past year Florida reported nearly $1.23 billion in marijuana sales, according to a report by Leafly and Whitney Economics. Across the state the number of dispensaries have grown at an alarming rate. In downtown St. Augustine for example, there are now three operating within a one mile radius.
Despite our nation’s increasingly pro-marijuana culture, the Food and Drug Administration has only approved a handful of cannabis-related pharmaceuticals. FDA-approved medications like Merinol and Epidiolex treat severe illnesses like cancer, wasting syndrome, and acute cases of epilepsy. All other non-FDA-approved forms of marijuana remain illicit drugs under federal law.
It is important to note that contrary to Florida’s legislation to permit the use of medical cannabis, there is no “medical marijuana prescription” in Florida. It still remains federally illegal for a physician to prescribe a Schedule 1 drug in the United States. Therefore, no medical professional can legally or ethically prescribe a substance that may worsen their patients’ health or increase their odds of developing a marijuana use disorder. Further compounding the misconception is a non-stop advertisement campaign in which countless magazines, billboards, and social media sites proclaim the many health benefits of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
“We are seeing a trend in the use of marijuana in youth and adults to cope with the stressors and anxiety of daily living,” said Sara Rutan, Clinical Director of EPIC Behavioral Healthcare in St. Augustine. “There is a perception of little risk being involved in this type of use, however studies are linking regular use to increases in anxiety, depression and psychotic episodes particularly if use begins younger or there is already a history of mood problems. These impacts can affect work, family and social life creating additional stressors and having a spiral effect in an individual’s life, the very opposite of the desired outcome.”
Additionally, cannabidiol oil or CBD oil can now be found in a multitude herbal remedies and homeopathic treatments, even though its use is still prohibited by the Department of Defense. The ease of access to CBD oil has proved problematic for servicemembers who have to read labels extremely carefully on everything from tea to joint pain creams.
Mr. Albert Figueroa, the Risk Reduction Coordinator with the Florida Army National Guard’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Risk Reduction Program, says the force has had more than 150 Soldiers test positive for THC during a urinalysis over the last two years, many of whom claim they never smoked or ingested traditional forms of marijuana.
“Last year I had the case of a Soldier that showed a positive THC result from having purchased a CBD product advertised online with curative properties,” said Figueroa. “Unfortunately, as this Soldier found out, none of these products are regulated, so the possibilities of coming up positive on a urinalysis are high, regardless of what is advertised regarding the amount of THC found through hemp products.”
Despite the fact that by law CBD products can have no more than 0.3 percent THC, many tobacco shops and internet vendors sell products that contain more than the legal limit and are sometimes laced with synthetic marijuana, fentanyl or oils contaminated with pesticides, molds and heavy metals. Subsequently, members of the military may test positive for THC, experience a fatal drug overdose, or some form of poisoning due to contaminants. Even CBD purchased through reputable dealers that contain the legal amount of THC can cause a buildup of the illegal drug in the body that could eventually trigger a positive urinalysis. In addition to punitive UCMJ action and likely dishonorable discharge, Soldiers who test positive for controlled substances now face consequences that can carry over into their civilian lives. In accordance with Title 18 U.S. Code Section 922, otherwise known as the “Brady Bill,” the Soldier in question may not purchase, possess, receive or ship any personally owned firearms or ammunition for up to one year from the date of the positive urinalysis.
“The sole reason I stay away from THC anything is simply because of the ramifications that could possibly ruin my career,” said Army Staff Sgt. Robert Gilmore, a Satellite Communication Systems Operator-Maintainer and Unit Prevention Leader with the 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. “With the way that THC products in general are available, via vape, oil or smoke means it’s hard to tell what is what. It’s just not worth it to me to try.”
Too much remains unknown for America’s servicemembers to risk their reputations, careers, and lives over an unproven medicinal drug that remains illegal under federal law. If you are at a point where you feel you may need help with your physical or mental health, please contact a medical or mental health professional.
In a crisis, call 911 or the Veterans Crisis Hotline 1-800-273-8255, Opt 1, or text 838255. Florida National Guardsmen can also call 1-855-910-5000 to reach a psychological health coordinator. For more information about mental health treatment options in your area, contact your local Veteran’s Affairs Clinic.
ST. AUGUSTINE, FL, US
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