Both the future and present population of Florida is seniors. But if the older citizens of the Sunshine State want to access cannabis in nursing homes or retirement complexes, they’re out of luck thanks to the federal prohibition of cannabis overshadowing the state’s medical marijuana laws.
Nearly 20 percent of Florida’s 21 million residents are aged 65 or older. There are more retirees and people of retirement age in Florida than there are children under 18. In twenty years, according to population statistics, the elderly will outnumber children by nearly 2-to-1.
Seniors are a key reason why Florida voted to legalize medical cannabis, though in a manner far more restricted than in the western states, in November 2016. Over 70 percent of Floridians approved Amendment 2, but an even higher 83 percent of seniors told pollsters that they supported medical cannabis, making them a driving force behind the successful legalization effort.
The reasons why are obvious. While the science is still in its infancy, cannabis users have reported success in using the drug to treat chronic pain, arthritis, insomnia, depression, Parkinson’s — many of the conditions that come along with aging.
But in one of the many cruel twists that are a feature of the War on Drugs, many seniors in Florida cannot access any medical marijuana.
Joy Seligman is a 94-year-old retired nurse with Parkinson’s, who lives in an assisted-living “campus.” As the Herald Tribune reported, Seligman’s been at the assisted-living facility for three years. Just recently, she was entered into the state’s registry of “legitimate” medical-marijuana patients.
Within weeks of Seligman’s 63-year-old son presenting the staff at her Aviva retirement home with that documentation, the company issued a “new policy” that bans medical marijuana.
Aviva’s policy banning cannabis cites federal law as well as the company’s own “drug-free workplace policy.” Here, they cite the same legal grounding used by employers that fire or refuse to hire cannabis patients solely for their cannabis use.
In interviews with the newspaper, staff at the assisted-living complex insist that they instituted the ban out of an abundance of caution, citing fears over losing federal Medicaid and Medicare funding from the strict and cannabis-hating Trump administration.
As far as anyone can tell, there are no assisting-living facilities in Florida that officially allow cannabis. It could be that some are aware that their wares are using cannabis, which in Florida is a discreet act no more oppressive than popping a pill. Cannabis must be vaporized, applied topically, or eaten in Florida — no smoking is allowed.
But the argument that they risk federal funding is a myth. As the newspaper reported, there are assisted-living facilities in Washington state that have crafted policies to allow their residents to legally use cannabis. And “according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, none have yet lost financing or been penalized for doing so,” as per the paper.
More irony: Florida’s controls for medical cannabis all but eliminate any so-called “abuses” in the system. A neurologist and Seligman’s primary-care doctor have both signed off on her use of cannabis.
She could go ahead and violate Aviva policy, but she says she has no interest in breaking the law. She and her son are considering a lawsuit, but believe that it would take “ten years” and a visit to the state Supreme Court to force the issue. And the 94-year-old Seligman doesn’t have that kind of time.
Aviva did suggest a compromise of sorts. The facility suggested that she try Marinol, the pharmaceutical drug that’s synthetic THC, to soothe her arthritis and Parkinson’s. Marinol lacks many of the other compounds in cannabis, including CBD, and is thus many advocates, including NORML, do not consider it a viable alternative.
In the meantime, she told the Herald Tribune, she has pharmaceutical options to deal with her chronic pain: She has prescription opiates. This debate will outlive Seligman, but it won’t go away. As the demographics show, it will only intensify.
TELL US, do you think there should be cannabis in nursing homes?