At Pharma-Sponsored Conference, Florida Medical Association Votes to Oppose Medical Marijuana

This past Sunday, the Florida Medical Association voted to oppose Amendment 2, Florida's latest effort to legalize medical marijuana. The FMA, which represents more than 20,000 physicians in the state, also opposed a similar effort two years ago.

So why is the doctors' group hell-bent against a treatment option that has been embraced elsewhere in the United States? Well, after the vote at the group's annual meeting in Orlando, CEO Tim Stapleton offered the following (factually dubious) reasoning: 

"There is nothing 'medical' about this proposal, and the lack of scientific evidence that pot is helpful in treating medical conditions is far from inclusive," he said, according to a news release sent out by Drug Free Florida, the billionaire-backed campaign to scare people from voting for medical marijuana.

But the FMA neglected to mention one key fact about its vote: Its Orlando conference, held this year at Walt Disney World, was sponsored by PhRMA, one of the pharmaceutical industry's largest trade organizations. PhRMA has spent millions to defeat medical marijuana proposals across the nation.
Pharmaceutical companies have long stood in opposition to legalized weed, because studies have shown that fewer doctors prescribe opiate painkillers in states where medical cannabis is legal. One 2015 University of Georgia study showed that a single doctor in a medical-marijuana state will prescribe 265 fewer doses of antidepressants, 486 fewer doses of seizure medicine, 541 fewer scrips for anti-nausea medication, 562 fewer anti-anxiety doses, and a whopping 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers each year.

Thus, the pharmaceutical industry has pulled out just about every stop it can to prevent the spread of legal weed. In 2013 alone, PhRMA spent $18 million on lobbying, according to campaign-donation-tracking website OpenSecrets.org.

(Some have speculated that medical marijuana's effect on the prescription-pill industry drove Publix heiress Carol Jenkins Barnett to donate $800,000 to Drug Free Florida in July. Publix is one of the largest pharmacy chains in the South.)

State funding disclosures show the group's own political action committee is largely funded through small donations from Florida doctors, but the FMA and Big Pharma seem to have a long history of lobbying collaboration.

It appears that PhRMA and the FMA have shared PR firms on at least one occasion and that the FMA has historically maintained an entire lobbying wing dedicated to "Pharmaceutical Corporate Affairs." According to one former FMA lobbyists' LinkedIn profile, that lobbying group "was a forum for collaboration between Florida’s physicians and major pharmaceutical companies" such as Pfizer and Merck. The lobbyist himself had formerly worked for GlaxoSmithKline.

The Florida Medical Association's 2015 spring conference was backed by Big Pharma giants Endo Pharmaceuticals and Allergan, among other sponsors.

The group did not immediately respond to a call from New Times for comment.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.