Medical Marijuana Comes to SW Florida

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Reefer Madness

“The simple fact is there is still a social stigma attached to medical marijuana,” says Dr. Gregory Sonn of the Iona Cannabis Clinic and Iona Health & Wellness at 15550 McGregor Boulevard in South Fort Myers. “This is especially true among older folks who have the most need, yet flashback to their fears from the ‘Reefer Madness’ movie. With younger patients, it is the total opposite. The typical elderly patient takes 5 to 6 pills each day and if you are in a nursing home or convalescent facility that jumps to 7 to 10 including vitamins. Most don’t need to be on all those but Big Pharmacy horn-swaggled us – this is a sad state of affairs.”

Despite being born in Fort Lauderdale, Dr. Sonn is basically a local guy! “I graduated from Cypress Lake Middle & High Schools, before going to medical school in Kansas City, Missouri, and my family now lives on Fort Myers Beach. My Dad and brother are both physicians so there has been a Dr. Sonn in this town since the early 1980s. I did my residency in family practice and quite a bit in geriatrics, and am board certified in geriatric and palliative medicine, and that brought me back to Lee County about a decade ago for a great opportunity with Hope Hospice, where I experienced a lot of cancer treatments with morphine and oxycodone, so I have more experience with these drugs than most doctors will in their lifetimes. I always had an interest in using medical cannabis as a treatment, but I never thought it would pass in Florida due to it being an older conservative state.”

After palliative care, “I needed something different,” he says. “It was too emotional, and I was lucky to get into integrated medicine at Iona Health & Wellness, where we accept all facets, like eastern philosophies and acupuncture – we do not discount anything that has scientific truth and medical marijuana falls into those treatments. I want to be at the forefront, as in my opinion there is almost nobody better qualified to treat the pain experience. I don’t see people as commodities, and in fact I charge my cannabis patients less, as no one covers them under medical insurance.”

The Process

At your initial appointment, Dr. Sonn conducts a complete physical and medical history, then reviews all your symptoms, treatments, and expected outcomes to determine your eligibility. State law currently holds tight reins on eligible medical issues to seizures, chronic spasms, cancer patients, and a few other cases, but that may change once the Florida legislature sets new regulations this July, but right now it leaves many patients without this care as an option.

“Many people are excited about the prospect of treatment without aggressive opiates like Xanax or valium or other prescriptions doctors write out every day that carry the risk of overdose,” says Dr. Sonn. “I am a big believer in making medical cannabis available to all. It is my ultimate hope that Florida will remove all restrictions against medical cannabis.”

After making his determination, “per State law you must wait 90 days once we establish a relationship before I can prescribe medical marijuana,” he relates. “For current patients, however, we can start cannabis treatment immediately. We review the seven approved statewide dispensaries and how their products will work with your specific diagnosis, so we determine your plan together. I go into the Office of Compassionate Care and the Compassionate Use Registry and record my relationship with the patient, and they issue them an identification number while I note the dosage, then submit the initial treatment plan to the University of Florida College of Pharmacy and the Florida Compassionate Care Act databases. I am a one-stop shop and do everything you need to receive medical marijuana approval.” At that point, it is the patient’s responsibility to contact the dispensary, who delivers medical marijuana directly to their home. You do not receive the flower marijuana that you smoke but administer it through oils and pills.

Jamaicans in Paradise

Dr. Sonn relates an experience he went through with an elderly patient who struggled with tremors her entire life. “When I first discussed medical marijuana with her, she became terribly frightened, and was really apprehensive that a Rastafarian would come out of her condominium elevator to deliver her marijuana and her neighbors would see this. Once we explained everything to her in detail, she is now looking forward to it.”

When asked where medical marijuana will be in five years, Dr. Sonn replies that “I am actually torn – I really don’t know. I am a Libertarian so I don’t think there should be any regulations on something I can grow in my backyard garden. I am a firm believer in allowing physicians to dispense medical marijuana from our offices; you can get your B-12 shot from me, but not your medical cannabis and I don’t understand why that is the case. I should be able to supply it to my patients, just like any other medication – that is my ultimate goal.”

He sees price regulation as a crucial component: “medical marijuana needs to be cheaper than Black Market marijuana because no one will buy it if they can get it for less from Jimmy across the street. The marketplace dictates a lot of things, and it is unfair Florida has only seven dispensaries that will most likely discourage competitive pricing. Medical marijuana is like anything else that involves the government – they make it more complicated than necessary.”

For more information, contact Dr. Sonn at Iona Health & Wellness at 239-689-6820 or the Iona Cannabis Clinic at 239-689-6819 or see ionahealthandwellness.com. “I want to lecture and teach about the benefits of medical marijuana because education is the key, and not just to patients but other physicians and local lawmakers. The more I can get in front of these people, the more they will understand the benefits of medical marijuana.”

Gary Mooney