Research & Commentary: Could Medical Marijuana Combat Prescription Opioid Abuse in Florida?

Published June 27, 2016

In November, Floridians will vote on Amendment 2, the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative. If passed, Florida would become the 26th state to allow for the medical use of marijuana for individuals with “debilitating medical conditions,” as determined by a licensed physician.

The measure is an extension of the 2014 Florida Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, which allows patients with conditions that cause chronic seizures and spasms and cancer patients to use low-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannabis. The low-THC cannabis “does not usually produce the ‘high’ commonly associated with cannabis.” Terminal patients, as determined by two physicians, are, however, permitted to use medical cannabis that “can contain sufficient levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC to produce the ‘high’ commonly associated with cannabis.”

The Florida Department of Health is in charge of the initiative and created the Office of Compassionate Use to govern medical marijuana use in 2014.

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 286 percent increase in heroin-related overdose deaths and that “people who are addicted to … prescription opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.” CDC recommends reducing “prescription opioid painkiller abuse” to help “prevent people from starting heroin.”

Published in May in Health Affairs, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Harvard-affiliated hospital, and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Boston Healthcare System found between 2002 and 2012, “opioid-related hospitalizations rose 72 percent … and opioid-related hospitalizations with serious infection rose 91 percent …” The researchers estimate per-hospitalization costs related to opioid abuse or dependence to be “more than $28,000 and more than $107,000 for hospitalizations due to opioid abuse/dependence associated with infection.”

The Health Affairs study also found Medicaid “was the most common primary payer for opioid-associated hospitalizations.” It is estimated that “only 20 percent of discharges related to opioid abuse/dependence and 14 percent of discharges associated with infection were covered by private insurance.”

By allowing patients to obtain prescriptions for medical marijuana for pain management, Florida can curb the effect of opioid abuse. Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Medical School found “patients using medical marijuana to control chronic pain reported a 64 percent reduction in their use of more traditional prescription pain medications known as opioids.” The research team conducted surveys from 2013 to 2015 and studied “185 patients from a medical marijuana dispensary.”

People suffering with painful ailments should be allowed to use medicinal marijuana as part of a comprehensive pain management plan overseen by a physician. This would provide patients with a safer alternative to more addictive narcotics commonly used today and would help reduce federal and state costs linked to opioid addiction and overdose.

The following documents offer additional information on medical marijuana.

The Fiscal and Social Implications of Marijuana Legalization
In this Research & Commentary, Government Relations Coordinator Lindsey Stroud examines an analysis suggesting the United States could gain a total of $28 billion in tax revenue if it were to legalize the recreational use of marijuana nationwide. Stroud also discusses social effects linked to legalization (or the lack of legalization), such as arrest disparities related to criminal possession laws.

Another Chance to Legalize Pot in California
In California, possessing an ounce of marijuana is an “infraction” and can result in a $100 fine. State law treats smoking marijuana as a crime comparable to jaywalking, but growing and selling marijuana are felonies that could lead to prison. In this article, Jacob Sullum asks if consuming marijuana is nothing more than an infraction in California, how can it be a serious crime to help someone consume marijuana? That is a question voters will confront in November 2016 if the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, which seeks to permit the use of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older, qualifies for the ballot.

Federal Foolishness & Marijuana
In this article published in The Drug Policy Letter, author Jerome P. Kassirer argues the federal government’s ban on marijuana has unjustly harmed sick Americans and has caused their family members to break the law. “The advanced stages of many illnesses and their treatments are often accompanied by intractable nausea, vomiting, or pain,” wrote Kassirer. “Thousands of patients with cancer, AIDS, and other diseases report they have obtained striking relief from these devastating symptoms by smoking marijuana. The alleviation of distress can be so striking that some patients and their families have been willing to risk a jail term to obtain or grow the marijuana.” Kassirer says federal policies prohibiting physicians from alleviating suffering by prescribing marijuana for seriously ill patients is misguided, heavy-handed, and inhumane. He also says it is hypocritical to forbid physicians to prescribe marijuana while permitting them to use morphine and meperidine to relieve extreme dyspnea and pain.

8 Things We Won’t Miss When Pot is Legal Everywhere
In an article published by Reason, which also appeared at, Nick Gillespie writes about the growing acceptance of marijuana legalization in the United States. Gillespie concludes, “Legalizing pot won’t create a problem-free country any more than tearing down the Berlin Wall solved all the problems in East Germany or ending de jure segregation fixed race relations in the U.S. But it would reflect the will of an increasing number of citizens who realize the government has better things to do than tell us what we can and cannot put into our bodies. And it will also consign many terrible things about contemporary America to the dust heap of history.”

On the Limits of Federal Supremacy: When States Relax (or Abandon) Marijuana Bans
In this Cato Institute Policy Analysis, Richard Mikos examines how the separation of powers between the states and the federal government applies to the debate on marijuana legalization and use. Using medical marijuana as a case study, the analysis looks at how the anti-commandeering principle protects states’ prerogative to legalize activity Congress has chosen to ban. Mikos explains the federal government has banned marijuana outright, and he says for years, federal officials have lobbied against local efforts to legalize medical use of the drug. However, an ever-growing number of states have adopted legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana despite the ban.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Budget & Tax News at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database at

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