With the Nov. 8 passage of Amendment 2, the Sunshine State became the 26th in the nation to allow patients with debilitating health conditions to access medical cannabis. North Dakota and Arkansas did the same, so America now has 28 states where this humanitarian medicine is legal.
Four states – California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada – carried the issue even further and voted to legalize cannabis for adults. Now, 40 million people live in a state where marijuana is legal for those 21 and over.
More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved the so-called “Medical-Marijuana Amendment.” In fact, in each of the state’s 67 counties, a majority of voters said “yes” to the amendment.
Ethel Rowland was elected in June to serve two years as president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network (FCAN). In a face-to-face interview before the election, she said her group represents “those who need to use cannabis, those who want to use cannabis and those who are using cannabis ahead of the law.”
The entire plant is beneficial, she explained. “Cannabis is a useful plant for food, fuel, fiber, pharmacopeia and fun. … Once I understood the full potential of cannabis, I had to do something.”
Here are some things you need to know now about the new amendment to Florida’s Constitution; it takes effect Jan. 3, 2017. Most of the information below was excerpted from an email from Jodi James, executive director of the Melbourne-based Florida Cannabis Action Network.
Not much will change anytime soon: The state Department of Health can take up to nine months to issue patient-identification cards. In addition, it is unlikely that legal distribution of medical cannabis will begin before the Florida Legislature ends its 2017 session in June.
The Department of Health must draft appropriate regulations within six months. These will cover such topics as the qualifications for caregivers and the amounts of cannabis a patient may have.
The regulations also will establish procedures for the registration of Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs). These procedures will address, for example, how licenses will be granted for each MMTC, as well as testing procedures, record-keeping, security standards, labeling, inspecting and safety.
Medical Cannabis is available now
Florida already has a Compassionate Use program. The state Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use explains this on its website: “Medical Cannabis: If a patient is suffering from a condition determined to be terminal by two physicians, he or she may qualify for medical cannabis. This product can contain significant levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and may produce the ‘high’ commonly associated with cannabis.”
To become eligible for medical marijuana, a patient must have at least one of the “debilitating medical conditions” as defined in the amendment (text is just below).
“Cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, MS, or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”
Furthermore, any patient must first have worked with his or her physician for three months before the doctor can recommend low-THC, high-CBD (cannabidiol) cannabis.
Says Florida CAN Executive Director James, “We encourage patients with a condition listed in Amendment 2 to establish a relationship with a doctor already on the Department of Health’s list. These physicians can add your name to the patient registry, and they have taken continuing medical education credits in cannabis medicine.”
For a list of physicians allowed to recommend cannabis, visit: http://www.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/office-of-compassionate-use/_documents/completed-cme.pdf
Six companies have been licensed by the Department of Health to grow and dispense cannabis: All six are authorized to grow any type of cannabis. However, they may distribute cannabis only to patients listed on the Department of Health registry; and the type of cannabis they provide is limited to what is recommended by the physician.
U.S. Postal Service letter carriers won’t be delivering cannabis: Although the six companies licensed to grow and dispense medical cannabis are each licensed for a certain region, they are permitted to dispense cannabis throughout Florida.
Each company plans for home delivery, in addition to dispensaries, as an option. It is a federal offense to mail cannabis.
Florida does not honor reciprocity: In other words, patients do not automatically qualify for this state’s medical-marijuana program, even if they qualify in another state. Also, it is illegal to bring medical cannabis into Florida from any other state.
Florida Food & Farm will continue to provide updates about implementation of the new medical-marijuana amendment as they become available.