The Salt Life: Medical Marijuana in Florida (Part II: Smoke and Mirrors) by Sasha

Florida-1In Part I of this three part series, I outlined the process that a patient must follow to legally obtain medical marijuana. Here in Part II, I trace some of the absurdities and hypocrisies associated with this process. There are so many that a forthcoming Part III will be necessary.

So here are some follow-up questions regarding the process. I’ve tried to give a straight answer and then continue with my own snarky analysis.

What forms of medical marijuana can be dispensed?  Vape pens, dissolvable capsules, tinctures, and gels.

No smoke?!? No toke?!? No joke. Under Senate Bill 8A, a physician cannot recommend buds, joints, or any form of marijuana that can be smoked. John Morgan, of the law firm Morgan & Morgan and Chair of People United for Medical Marijuana, has filed a lawsuit challenging what he sees as the state’s undermining of Amendment’s 2 intent which was to allow physicians to decide which form of cannabis to recommend while also allowing a prohibition against smoking in public. I think he’s right and hope he wins.

Why can’t my own physician recommend medical marijuana for my treatment?  It’s by his or her choice.  To become state licensed, a physician needs only to hold a license from any medical discipline (e.g. a podiatrist), AND take a two hour online course that currently costs $250. That’s it.

I admit that I haven’t viewed the two hour online course, but this sure seems like a very low bar to meet in order to qualify. So why don’t more physicians who regularly treat people who suffer from the “qualifying conditions” have the state certification to recommend medical marijuana? I can think of several reasons. First, marijuana whether clinical or not still holds a stigma within our culture and physicians don’t want to be associated with it. Second, most physicians treating patients who have one of the “qualifying conditions” rely on traditional (and not coincidentally profit-enhancing) treatments like surgery, physical therapy, or prescription drugs recommended by Big Pharma. Third, physicians often claim that there is insufficient scientific evidence (as opposed to anecdotal evidence) of the curative effects of clinical marijuana–a claim that should be taken seriously except that the federal government has greatly curtailed such studies (and why will be discussed in Part III).

The result is that patients must attempt to find a recommending doctor on their own. From the people I’ve spoken with, this is daunting and can be downright frightening. Some physicians will not book an appointment until their consulting fee (ranging from $250-1,000) is paid either in half or in full. Some travel throughout the state and hold their consulting appointments in hotel rooms or other rented spaces. People are fearful that they are being ripped off or lured to a place where they will be endangered. Yet many go. It tells you something about the desperation and the uncomfortable position that the state regulations have placed them in.

Why are there so few medical marijuana dispensaries?  Florida has chosen to limit the number to 12.

But Florida has also chosen to treat dispensaries differently than other businesses that provide meds. So I’d like to question why providers of medical marijuana are called “dispensaries” and not “pharmacies.” Distinguished by different names, they can now be subjected to regulations that limit their number, limit their locations (heavens, not by a school!!!), and limit their suppliers (to those in the state). Imagine the same regulations applied to CVS, Walgreens, Publix, and every other pharmacy that prescribes opioids. It makes you question whether  lawmakers really believe that marijuana can be medicinal.

shutterstock_431649292Why all the hurdles for patients to jump? Florida has placed the obstacles in order to safeguard that medical marijuana is not abused, e.g., by making it available to those without medical needs approved by the state.

But to me this is disingenuous. These obstacles reach beyond that goal and this is by design, not accident. I think they are inspired by lawmakers’ rejection of what the people of Florida decided–that medical marijuana should be available to suffering patients.

As I pointed out in Part I, I would have an easier time legally obtaining a gun or oxycodine than I would legally obtaining medical marijuana. If I wanted a gun, I could buy one at a gun show and take it home today. If I needed a prescription for excruciating pain, I’m pretty certain I could have the meds within five days. But if I need medical marijuana to ease my pain or symptoms, it will take months to get it. I’ve first got to find a new qualifying physician and then wait for an appointment for the consult (and some people wait for weeks); then I need to apply for my FL medical marijuana card (that now takes the state 4-6 weeks to issue); then I have to find one of the few operating dispensaries and drive to it or wait until they can deliver my clinical marijuana.

Those patients who are willing to conquer the hurdles and wait to legally obtain clinical marijuana must ask themselves whether it would be more cost effective and time efficient to go to an illegal dealer instead. So the hurdles put in place by the state might in fact work to undermine the objective of giving patients access to LEGAL medical marijuana.

Why can’t I use a charge card to pay for clinical marijuana and its associated costs and why won’t insurance companies cover it? Because under federal law, medical marijuana is illegal.

Stay tuned for Part III as I explain this contradiction in law.