Now that Florida has voted overwhelmingly to pass Amendment 2 – legalizing the use of medical marijuana for people with debilitating conditions – it is time to figure out just how the state plans to make that a reality for hundreds of thousands of patients. As it stands right now, the state is only prepared for a small number of patients due to the limited nature of the medical marijuana laws that are already on the books. In order to serve the expanding patient base, the state will have to determine how best to expand the existing industry.
The law legalizing medical marijuana will go into effect on January 3rd, but it will still be months until the specifics of the new law will be finalized. Amendment 2 is very limited, outlining only what was necessary in order to get patients access to medicine they desperately need. Rather than coming up with the regulatory framework regarding cultivation and distribution of the plant, among other things, Amendment 2 gives that responsibility to the state Department of Health, though lawmakers intend to address some issues in the legislature come early 2017.
At this point, the state’s Office of Compassionate Use website still only provides information regarding the laws allowing low-THC strains of cannabis and full strength cannabis for the terminally ill. Though they have updated the website to inform patients that Amendment 2 will go into effect at the start of the year, it does not reflect any changes that Amendment 2 will make to the requirements to obtain medical marijuana. Hopefully once lawmakers and the Department of Health have settled on a few things, this website will be updated to reflect the new law better.
What Changes with Amendment 2?
With Amendment 2, “full strength” medical cannabis (higher THC) will be legal for patients with debilitating conditions including cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s and more, as well as anyone with a condition deemed similarly debilitating. It does not require the same 90 day doctor-patient relationship as before, but lawmakers may address this in the 2017 legislative season, though they are being encouraged not to implement a similar requirement as it would delay patient access.
Patients will still be required to get a recommendation from a certified physician – and they will need to obtain a state-issued medical marijuana ID card. These ID cards are expected to begin being issued no later than September 2017 – and the amendment gives the state roughly six months or so to come up with regulations for the new industry. The fact that the amendment was very specific about providing patients with access sooner rather than later is important – it took about two years to enact the Charlotte’s Web law passed in 2014 and if lawmakers had their way it might have gone the same for Amendment 2.
Who Can Grow and Sell Medical Cannabis?
The first thing that many patients are going to want to know is whether or not it will be an option to grow their own medicine. Unfortunately, Amendment 2 does not allow for home cultivation of cannabis by patients or caregivers. Instead, Compassion Centers – the equivalent to a dispensary – will be patients’ sources of medicine. This is partially because Florida lawmakers fear that medical marijuana is simply a front for full legalization and partially to ensure the quality and consistency of the medicine that people will be using.
It will be up to the state to make a decision on how to move forward with growers – technically the Department of Health has the right to govern this industry, but there likely needs to be big changes from their current requirements. At the moment, the state has only six nurseries licensed to grow medical marijuana – with multiple pending court cases that challenge those licenses. The current requirements include having a certain amount of assets as well as having been in business for 30 years or more – and that system likely will not be able to handle the volume that is expected.
“The number of patients will exceed what these six growers can provide and it’s not in the intent of the amendment,” Goldstein said.
There is a chance that one of the issues lawmakers will address during the next legislative session is going to be who will be allowed to grow and sell medical cannabis. Will dispensaries be able to grow their own product or will that require a separate license? Will it remain only larger nurseries with existing experience who are allowed to grow cannabis and open dispensaries or will it become a more open market? These issues will need to be resolved quickly in order to have enough medicine available for the inevitable growth of the patient registry.
How Do You Get a Medical Marijuana Recommendation?
Speaking of the growing number of patients who will be able to seek relief from medical marijuana – let’s go back to the 90 day waiting period currently imposed on medical marijuana patients in Florida. This is one of the issues that is worrying patients and advocates the most – it should not take a three month relationship with your doctor for you to be allowed to access the medicine they prescribe or recommend. The idea is that cannabis should be treated no different than any other medicine – and this 90 day wait is far too long.
For patients who are suffering, every day is a long day – and for those who are fighting a losing battle, 90 days can be too long. One of the things we are all hoping to see happen with the implementation of Amendment 2 is the removal of this 90 day waiting period, allowing patients to get their medicine much sooner. Considering you must find a certified physician, and most people’s general practitioner will not be certified, it could mean far longer than a three month wait when you include the time to find and see a new doctor.
When Will Medical Cannabis be Available to Floridians?
Once you have found a doctor to provide your medical marijuana recommendation, patients will need to obtain an ID card from the state – and those will start being distributed next fall. Realistically, even with the few dispensaries that are already open or that will be open by the time fall rolls around again, those first few patients should have access to their medicine as soon as their ID cards are available.
At the earliest, it looks like September will be when the first patients in Florida are able to get their hands on medical cannabis. Once regulations for growing and dispensing have been agreed upon between the legislature and Department of Health, it will likely be a matter of months before applications are being accepted, licenses are being awarded and grows and shops start to go up.
If for some reason lawmakers, or the Department of Health, attempt to slow down this process, then patients would have the right to have the court compel them to come up with such regulations. Sp from the sound of it, access to medical marijuana in Florida is about a year away for patients with debilitating conditions.