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A Florida Nursing Home Is Refusing a Senior Citizen Her State-Approved Medical Marijuana

The Sunshine State is home to millions of the elderly residents could benefit from cannabis, but if nursing homes won’t allow the medication for fear of federal prosecution, they may be out of luck.

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Florida’s medical marijuana program is expected to surpass $1 billion in market value by 2020, but that doesn’t mean the fledgling industry is without its problems. John Morgan, the lawyer who authored the state’s medical marijuana legislation, is still in the thick of a lawsuit to allow the use and sale of smokable cannabis. Another lawsuit alleges discrimination against possible minority business owners, and even earlier this week, state regulators missed a deadline to issue additional growing licenses. Now, management at a Florida nursing home is complicating things even further, denying a resident her state-approved medical marijuana, opening a can of worms that will eventually need to be addressed by all of the state’s assisted living facilities.

According to a local ABC News affiliate, officials at Zephyrhills Health and Rehab Center in Pasco County were not concerned with the state-approved prescription accompanying Charlotte Simpson’s medical marijuana, and refused to administer the holistic medicine, instead sending the cannabis home with the woman’s son, effectively blocking Simpson from using the drug.

“You should see the condition she's in. It’s horrible,” Bert Greene, Simpson’s son, said. “She's got uncontrollably shaking, excruciating pain. She's tried everything that there is to try.” 

Greene says his mother was recommended medical marijuana to treat the chronic pain from her arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, and was excited to try the newly available treatment, until the nursing home decided otherwise. 

“When she was finally approved, and the medicine was delivered, they gave it to me and told me I had to take it home with me,” Greene said.

After the press picked up on the incident, a spokesperson for Zephyrhills released a statement, citing federal prohibition as the reason for their refusal.

"Our top priority is the care, safety and comfort of our patients,” the statement read. “Like all health care facilities in Florida, and in any other state that permits the use of medical marijuana, we are seeking to balance and comply with the clear prohibitions of federal law with the flexibility afforded under state law."

California, Colorado, and other states with medical marijuana laws have found a more reasonable balance, with some assisted living facilities even encouraging cannabis use, offering field trips to nearby dispensaries. 

With Florida’s huge senior citizen population, a widespread move to adopt policies similar to Zephyrhills could hinder the state’s industry, and prevent thousands of elderly from accessing the potentially life changing medication. 

“There's a problem with it, given that there's a new law,” University of South Florida Healthcare Vice President Jay Wolfson, said. “The law says that this is a legitimate medical therapy and you've gotten a legal medical prescription.”

But, no matter what a patient, their doctor, or the state says, marijuana is still a federally scheduled narcotic, and private businesses like Florida’s nursing homes can set their own rules, even if it prevents their residents from living comfortably. 

“They have the prerogative under medical decision-making and their medical director to say we do not believe that this is something that we want to offer and administer in our facility because there are alternatives, and it's going to be very difficult to force them to do that.”

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If the threat of federal enforcement pushes more of the state’s nursing homes to ban medical marijuana, though, we’re guessing it won’t take long for a 420-friendly business to create a similarly welcoming assisted living community in the Sunshine State. 

Until then Greene will have to either sneak the medication to his mother, move her to into a new living situation or deny her holistic pain relief - a choice that no child hoping to help their suffering parent should be forced to make.

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