When the medical cannabis amendment in Florida was approved by over 71 percent of voters during the November 2016 ballots, local residents assumed the fight to legalize medical cannabis treatment was over. Instead, they were met with an uphill battle over the implementation of medical cannabis laws in the state.
Under state law, smoking cannabis is considered to be illegal. Registered patients are allowed to vape and consume edibles. Furthermore, low-THC derivatives are permissible for patients diagnosed with cancer, seizure disorders and chronic muscle spasms.
This statewide ban is very controversial, as smoking is the main method of cannabis consumption for local patients. Compared to other options, the effects of smoking is instantaneous and more predictable. A patient suffering from chronic pain due to a severe back injury may choose to smoke cannabis for immediate relief. The delayed effects of non-herbal cannabis are also ineffective for patients suffering from anxiety and PTSD.
In a 2013 study, McGill University professor and physician Mark Ware concluded,
“Cannabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or airway cancers… Efforts to develop cleaner cannabinoid delivery systems can and should continue, but at least for now, (those) who smoke small amounts of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes can breathe a little bit easier.”
In an attempt to challenge the ban, Orlando attorney John Morgan filed a lawsuit against the state. The move suggests the language in the ballot amendment that indicates smoking medical cannabis in public locations could be banned means it should be allowed in private places.
Morgan clarified this was the intent of the amendment. Patients were expecting lawmakers to handle the implementation process in the same way other states have enforced consumption laws – to allow cannabis to be smoke and grown privately.
Interestingly, Morgan expects the curveball to ignite even greater changes, to the tune of fully legalizing cannabis on a recreational level. If lawmakers are successful in reducing the current legislation to a very rigid set of guidelines that limits cannabis consumption to less desirable mediums, local supporters will be left with no choice but to rally towards a more comprehensive solution.
“If something is not allowed in public, it is allowed in private,” cited Morgan at a press conference outside the Leon County Courthouse. “It’s as clear to all of you as it is to any first-grader taking first-grade logic.”
Another disappointing aspect of Florida’s medical cannabis regulations is its limitations on growing licenses. At the moment, the law caps the number to 17; and every licensed grower is only allowed to serve a maximum total of 25 medical dispensaries. Additionally, a handful of cities, such as Winter Park, Orlando and Maitland, are already moving to block or limit dispensaries in areas with high demand for cannabis treatment.
In Orlando, medical cannabis dispensaries are capped at seven. Moreover, establishments are not allowed to be located within 1,000 feet of educational institutions and 200 feet of residential spaces. Dispensaries must not be within a mile from each other.
Compared to testing alcohol, checking for traces of cannabis compounds is exponentially more complicated. In the race to build a quick and reliable cannabis breathalyzer, scientists are looking to cutting-edge technologies in the fields of analytical chemistry and bomb detection.
Read on to understand how such new developments are influencing roadside testing methods for cannabis.
An instrument to sample vapor inside an old paint can, using PLOT-cryo (NIST photo)
A ground-breaking study, published by researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), recommends using a unique testing method that leverages porous layer open tubular cryogenic (PLOT-cyro) absorption. PLOT-cyro was established in 2009 by Tom Bruno, a NIST chemist; which at the time was designed for detecting explosive substances and compounds at busy airports. Today, it is being utilized to support evidence for cases of arson.
Bruno believes PLOT-cryo could revolutionize cannabis testing by creating a foundation for standardization.
In cannabis detection, PLOT-cryo is capable of detecting THC on a molecular level. Unlike ethyl alcohol, THC compounds are difficult to measure because they possess very low vapor pressure. By comparison, high vapor pressure molecules are considerably lighter and escape more easily, making them easy to detect. Hence, traditional methods of roadside testing are not effective for cannabis. PLOT-cyro works by trapping THC compounds and analyzing the sample in the vapor phase.
“Vapor pressure describes how a compound behaves when it transitions from a liquid to a gas,” explained Tara Lovestead, a NIST chemical engineer and the lead author of the study, in a statement.
“That’s what happens in your lungs when a molecule leaves the blood to be exhaled in your breath. So if you want to accurately measure blood levels based on breath, you need to know the vapor pressure.”
Other scientists, from UC Berkeley and the University of Florida, are looking to ion mass spectrometry to improve success rates of cannabis breathalyzers. This method relies on filtering cannabis compounds using active particles. The process is very accurate, as it could tell researchers if the subject has consumed cannabis within a window of a few hours. However, it doesn’t provide data surrounding the amount of THC present in the subject’s bloodstream.
Classic Sobriety Test
The main issue with applying the same framework for alcohol testing is that both substances (alcohol and cannabis) differ greatly. An individual with high tolerance to cannabis could still function reliably after consuming large amounts; while a person with low tolerance may not be able to perform basic tasks, like driving, after a small dose. Because of this, using a breathalyzer device as a medium for cannabis detection may not generate accurate results.
“What matters is not the THC,” said Daniele Piomelli, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Medicine and an expert on cannabis. “What matters is if you are intoxicated.”
Piomelli suggests enforcing the classic behavioral field sobriety test as the main tool for detecting cannabis intoxication.
“There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment in the same manner we do alcohol,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO. “In the case of marijuana, this approach is flawed and not supported by scientific research.”
Operating cannabis businesses is becoming easier, as more states recognize the legality of such establishments – but storing money at the end of the day is not. In fact, banking guidelines for the industry have become increasingly complicated for business owners.
This major obstacle is often overshadowed by the success of the nascent sector. For example, recreational cannabis proved to be a huge hit in Nevada, bringing in an estimated $3 million worth of sales in the first four days of public openings. Despite such accomplishments, legal cannabis transactions remain cash only in the state.
Banks, which are largely governed by federal law, are not optimistic about supporting cannabis retail shops with mainstream financial services typically offered to other types of businesses. This is because on a federal level, cannabis is still illegal. Since financial institutions rely on federal systems for insurance, wire transfers and payments, the last thing they want to do is rub authorities the wrong way.
One of the ways banks could overstep their relationship with federal regulators is by failing to report illegal activities, which is where cannabis business owners and financial institutions are currently at a standstill. Cannabis is considered to be legal in states that acknowledge it as a product – even though federal authorities persistently view the plant as a controlled substance.
“The FDIC could step in and shut down a bank, and it can do that with very little notice,”
said Julie Hill, a law professor at the University of Alabama and former finance industry attorney.
“Nobody’s ever gotten their bank brought back to life after it’s been closed by regulators.”
As a result, retail shop owners are taking two very different approaches to managing their finances.
Some groups are hoarding cash in personal vaults, with help from third-party security agencies, to prevent criminals from targeting their establishments. Technically speaking, this approach isn’t illegal – just very risky. As long as sales are properly accounted for, recorded and reported to the federal government, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining boatloads of banknotes in a secure safe.
Other cannabis business owners prefer to take their earnings directly to the Federal Reserve Bank, where it is placed into a credit union account for safekeeping. The most dangerous part of this method is bringing cash to the federal building. No one wants to carry large amounts of money around in broad daylight, even with a security escort.
“Right now, at the downtown office of finance, there’s a six-story parking structure 500 yards away,” explained Jerred Kiloh, owner of Higher Path Collective, a medical cannabis dispensary located in Sherman Oaks, California.
“I have to walk through what is essentially a homeless encampment with a duffel bag full of cash, walk across the street, go through security and then sometimes stand in line.”
There’s no doubt that partnering with a local bank is the key solution to reducing risks related to managing retail transactions. By allowing cannabis shops to leverage electronic financial services, owners would not have to choose between maintaining an in-store vault or delivering their earnings directly to federal institutions.
Legal cannabis is breaking into mainstream markets, erasing traditional views surrounding the background and profile of frequent consumers. From lawyers and parents to chefs and senior citizens, it’s virtually impossible to tell who uses cannabis habitually without witnessing it firsthand. This is the conclusion Eaze, a California-based medical cannabis delivery service, arrived at in its recently released survey.
According to the startup, today’s typical cannabis consumers are moms, college degree holders (51 percent) and full-time workers (91 percent).
Shocking? Yes, but there’s more.
It seems people are making less trips to the wine section of the grocery store and making more visits to legal cannabis dispensaries (or having cannabis products delivered using Eaze). Results from the survey highlights 87 percent (4 out of 5) of respondents are consuming less alcohol, citing an increase in cannabis use as the reason for the change in preference. Interestingly, 13 percent (1 out of 10) of survey participants completely replaced alcohol with cannabis.
So there you have it. The alcohol industry’s worst fear is finally coming to fruition with no relief in sight. With cannabis becoming more accessible, as regulations surrounding cultivation, consumption and distribution continue to spread, it is likely this trend is just getting started.
For parents, the survey points out that cannabis consumption isn’t an isolated habit. Sixty-three percent of respondents who are parents admitted to daily use, suggesting the practice is well integrated with their busy lifestyle. Furthermore, roughly 39 percent live with three or more people, compared to 26 percent individuals living alone.
“It’s not surprising to think that parents are using cannabis every day,” said Sheena Shiravi, an Eaze spokesperson, during an interview with Refinery29.
“Think about how often a mom reaches for glass of wine or takes Tylenol or pain killer for a headache or back pain.”
When it comes to methods of consumption, only nine percent of parents prefer not to smoke or vape cannabis. The top two options include rolling flowers into joints and grinding small loads into water pipes. This suggests that the presence of curious kids in the household does not affect cannabis flower consumption. Women, who make up “the fastest growing consumer segments in cannabis,” also follow similar cannabis consumption preferences.
However, it is important to highlight that while women prefer consuming cannabis flowers, they aren’t scared to explore their options. Using purchasing data from the delivery platform, Eaze researchers found that early adopters of up and coming cannabis products (topicals, rubs and oils) are women. The female demographic is using cannabis to ease a wide range of symptoms, including anxiety, PMS and nausea.
“They [women] use lower-dose edibles or CBD products (CBD does not have psychoactive effects) 42% more than men do. They’re also using it to replace potentially more harmful habits, like a form of harm reduction,” explained Shiravi.
Cannabis treatments are designed for all ages, from children (mostly low-THC derivatives) to senior citizens. According to statistics from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, the latter group is currently getting more familiar and becoming more receptive to medicinal cannabis treatments.
In Washington state, cannabis usage in individuals over the age of 65 went up from 0.9 percent to 2.4 percent between 2011 and 2014.
The rise of extremely potent prescription opioids is mostly to blame for the development of this trend. Some elderly patients are concerned about the devastating effects of harmful opiates on the liver, digestive system and the mind (promoting depression and laziness).
Senior citizens have several choices to choose from when using cannabis to treat various medical conditions. For arthritis, which affects more than 50 million adults in the US, such individuals can utilize topicals and oils for direct, immediate relief. In most cases, this form of treatment has very limited cerebral effects on the patient. Cannabis with high THC content is suitable for senior citizens who are dealing with chronic pain and disruptive sleeping habits.
“A lot of these people think it’s just smoking a joint, but when they hear that there are non-smokable options, and more discreet, healthier, more convenient options, that’s something that really appeals to them,” explained Aron Swan, general manager of Silver State Relief in Sparks, Nevada.
Nowadays, with a plethora of strains available on the market, individuals can find options that closely matches their tolerance, personality and personal preference. According to Jacob Falconer, a professional budtender, senior citizens who are into medical cannabis prefer high CBD strains. Such variants are effective in addressing cognitive function, anxiety and chronic pain, without the “couch-locking” effects commonly associated with high THC strains.
Like new technology, adoption of medical cannabis in elderly groups is greatly hindered by lack of access and education. Most senior citizens have a reserved, conservative stance on cannabis, due to the prohibition era. As a result, they need to be updated about new laws and regulations surrounding cannabis products. This process is difficult for older demographics who are in nursing homes and aren’t comfortable with using modern devices, like mobile phones and smart TVs.
“The number one thing for seniors is being able to educate them,” said 55-year-old California resident Bob Leber. “There’s a huge educational process at the beginning, and this lowers their anxiety and their apprehension.”
To cater to the elderly, some medical dispensaries are changing the way they do business. In California, popular cannabis dispensaries, like Harborside Health Center establishments in Oakland and San Jose, offer discounts to their senior customers.
Other dispensaries are making their shops welcoming to elderly groups by adding amenities and designs that are more attractive to such individuals. For example, a clean, quiet facility helps make some older customers feel they’re in a medical clinic, as opposed to a recreational head shop filled with loud music and hazy decorations. Some medical cannabis establishments go even further by installing handicap spaces in parking lots, with attendants ready to assist patients as they arrive at the dispensary.