Lawmaker points to few doctors approving pot

More than half of the state’s medical-marijuana approvals for patients over a six-month period came from 89 doctors.

The statistic recently alarmed members of a medical review board who worry medical marijuana could be replacing the state’s pill mills as a public-health problem. But state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith sees things differently. The Orlando Democrat believes the data is a reflection of a stigma in the medical community that marijuana is not a viable alternative to prescription drugs.

When patients find physicians willing to certify their need for medical marijuana, Smith said patients flock to the doctors.

“That’s the real problem,” he told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday.

Smith’s comments came after the House Health Quality Subcommittee discussed a draft report about medical marijuana that also was taken up in September by the Physician Certification Pattern Review Panel of the Board of Medicine and the Board of Osteopathic Medicine. Smith noted that the report showed there are 20 counties where no physician is certified to order marijuana for patients. 

“And because of the lack of recommending physicians, the other physicians get an influx,” he said.

A final report with a full year of data is expected to be published in November. The draft report contains data collected between Oct. 1, 2018, and March 31, 2019. It shows that 1,207 physicians had approved active medical-marijuana “certifications” for patients  during the six-month period, but just 89 of them were responsible for 94,850 certifications.

Put another way, 7 percent of the physicians were responsible for 56 percent of the medical marijuana certifications. The data prompted Sarvam TerKonda, a Jacksonville doctor and member of the medical review board, to say last month, “To me, I look at this data and say this is just another form of a pill mill.”  But Smith disputed that notion. “It’s a misnomer to compare medical cannabis doctors to pill mills. The consequences are substantially different,” he told the News Service.

“You have thousands of Floridians dying every single year from opioid overdose. Exactly zero Floridians have fatally overdosed from cannabis. Not in the last year, but since the beginning of recorded medicine. So the stakes and the comparison between this and pill mills is not a comparison.”

© 2019 The News Service of Florida.