That it is easier in Florida to legally obtain a gun (even in the aftermath of mass shootings) or to obtain opioids (in the midst of an overdose epidemic) than it is to obtain medical marijuana speaks volumes.
In 2016, with “yes” votes totaling 71%, the citizens of Florida approved Amendment 2, the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative. However, this overwhelming public support has not translated into the political will or the practical structure to follow this mandate. The result of this political intransigence is that although the law took effect in January 2017, medical marijuana is not readily accessible in Florida. The failure of politicians to abide by the will of the people is one major obstacle, but another is that there is a great deal of confusion about how to legally obtain medical marijuana.
In this blog entry (Part I), I’m going to explain the process. In upcoming entries (Parts II and III), I’ll highlight and analyze some of the quirks about Florida law regarding medical marijuana. Part I is intended to be instructive; Parts II and III may make you laugh or cry–but you will certainly groan.
My source for the details of the process is the presentation, “Medical Marijuana Q and A,” held at Fogartyville on Tuesday night (October 19). Dr. Dan Stein and Mr. Brad Weinstock of Neurology of Cannabis took questions from an audience of around 50 people about how patients can legally obtain medical marijuana. Neurology of Cannabis is a medical marijuana recommendation clinic that opened at 5602 Marquesas Circle, Sarasota, FL 34233. (941-600-9055)
So here is the process:
- Florida Residency. In order to obtain a card that authorizes you to obtain medical marijuana, you must have proof that you are a resident of Florida (e.g., a passport, tax bill, driver’s license, etc.)
- “Qualifying Condition.” Patients must have a “qualifying condition” as recognized under Amendment 2 and the legislation that put it into effect. (These conditions are detailed below.)
- Physician Recommendation. Patients must meet with a physician who has been certified by Florida to “recommend,” rather than technically to “prescribe,” the use of medical marijuana. This recommendation is filed online with the Florida Department of Health. The physician charges for this consultation meeting and most require payment in cash. No insurance companies cover this cost. [My own observation is that prices range from $250 to $1000.]
- Medical Marijuana Card. The patient needs to apply for the medical marijuana card and pays the Florida Department of Health $75 for this application. In some cases, the recommending physician or clinic will help the patient apply. It takes 4 to 6 weeks for the State to issue the card although under the law it should be issued in 30 days.
- Dispensary. Once the patient has received the Medical Marijuana photo ID card, a 70-day supply of the recommended medical marijuana can be obtained but only through a state licensed grower at one of their dispensaries. Costs vary, but again, cash is usually required and there is no insurance coverage. Currently, Florida law allows for only 12 growers and so far ten have received state licenses. The location of dispensaries is a political football limited by city and county zoning laws. Currently, there is no dispensary in Sarasota. Some dispensaries will deliver the marijuana directly to the patient.
- Follow-Up. The recommending physician has to file an updated treatment plan for the patient every 70 days (roughly 5 times a year.) Dosages can be adjusted at this time. There is no state requirement for an in-person consultation until 210 days from the initial consultation with the physician. Again, there are differences among recommending physicians whether patients will be charged for each updated treatment plan filed or for the 210 day in-person consult.
So that in a nutshell is the process…easy right? Hardly.
I’m sure you have a lot of remaining questions including: How to find a recommending physician? Why won’t your physician do this? How to find a dispensary? What forms of marijuana can be dispensed? Why is cash required and why won’t insurance companies help with the costs? Why does the federal government still maintain this is illegal?
I’ll try to answer these and more in Parts II and III.
Meanwhile, here is the answer to one of the biggest questions: What is a “qualifying condition?” This information comes from the handout and comments provided by Neurology of Cannabis, and from some of the regulations and legislation that put Amendment 2 into effect. Qualifying conditions:
- Cancer, Epilepsy, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, ALA, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, myelopathy, spasticity.
- Medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those above. [Note: This is more open to interpretation and could include conditions such as neuralgia, anxiety, insomnia, myospasm, movement disorders and colitis.]
- A terminal condition diagnosed by a physician other than the qualifying physician who issues the recommendation.
- Chronic nonmalignant pain caused by a qualifying medical condition or that originates from a qualifying medical condition and persists beyond the usual course of that qualifying condition. (Huh?)
- Another possibility to consider: Endocannobinoid Deficiency Syndrome (i.e., conditions like migraines, irritable bowel, inflammation, and fibromyalgia that may be caused by cannobinoid deficiency, and therefore can be alleviated by clinical cannabis.)
And here is a very intriguing gap in the law: there is no requirement that the patient provide the recommending physician with medical documents. You read that right. The recommendation can be based on what the patient tells the doctor during the consult, although the physician has the discretion to ask for more.
Next blog: Medical Marijuana Part II: Smoke and Mirrors. Stay tuned and please feel free to repost.