The Timeline To Implementing Medical Marijuana In Florida
Juan Cruz is a smartly dressed 15 year old Deltona boy: Black ball cap, bow tie, jeans and sneakers. Sitting on a comfy leather couch, he’s handed a blue bag with his latest prescription: An orange-flavored medical marijuana spray with 10 milligrams of THC and 10 milligrams CBD per dose. He pulls it out of the bag.
“Oh so it’s like a spray,” he says. “Under your tongue then?”
“Yes, baby, under your tongue,” his mother Jackie Cuevas says.
Juan’s voice is muffled. The right side of his face is red and swollen. Beneath the skin, you can see the tumor Juan been battling for two years.
He wears a patch after his right eye was removed. He’s on hospice, and has a continuous morphine drip.
His mother now hopes trying marijuana will let him be weened off the morphine, and what she calls a pharmacy in their bathroom.
“He’s a strong kid,” Jackie says. “He’s the strongest kid I’ve ever known.”
Cruz is able to get medical marijuana with THC under an existing Florida law that allows the terminally ill to get euphoric medical marijuana. With more than 71 percent of voters approving Amendment 2, more patients will be able to access medical marijuana.
Dr. Joseph Rosado prescribed Juan medical marijuana. He’s been an advocate of Florida’ medical marijuana amendment.
“As I mentioned earlier: One more tool in my toolbox to be able to manage and address patients,” Rosado said. “And not only limited to the four or five diagnoses we presently have, but broader.”
Patients with 10 qualifying conditions can now access medical marijuana in Florida:
- HIV and AIDS
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Crohn’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
The question now: How will Florida implement Amendment 2? Gerry Greenspoon’s Fort Lauderdale law firm has its own cannabis law practice. He said the Greenspoon Marder firm has been fielding calls from clients since Election night.
“Calling to ask, OK, what do we do now? Our answer at this point is: nothing. Just wait,” Greenspoon said.
Advocates estimate that 400,000 to 500,000 Floridians could be eligible for medical marijuana. But before those patients can get medical marijuana, Florida’s legislature has to act. They start meeting in March, and there are deadlines.
By June, they need to get a law passed and implemented by the Florida Department of Health. Florida must start issuing medical marijuana cards by September.
“You need quite a few outlets and dispensaries to be open and available,” Greenspoon said. “You need quite a bit of product and manufacturing facilities. Far, far in excess of six. That’s impossible.”
There are six dispensaries already growing cannabis is Florida. This will be the third time the Florida legislature tackles medical marijuana, so the process could go faster than in years past.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be fights. Jessica Spencer was the policy director for Drug Free Florida during its campaign against medical marijuana.
She wants the legislature to regulate the amount of THC available in the drug, and to make sure it doesn’t come in candy form. And she wants local governments to be able to regulate where the dispensaries can go.
“We need to make sure we help the legislature strictly regulate this to make sure it does not get into the hands of our children and people who don’t need it,” Spencer said.
And the nurseries already licensed to grow could create another road block. Bruce Knox of Knox Nurseries has one of those licenses. He’s worried that if the legislature adds more, he’ll lose his competitive advantage.
He says he built his Central Florida nursery with room to grow, anticipating the number of patients Amendment 2 could serve.
“Many, many thousands of patients,” Knox said. “Tens of thousands of patients. It’s a lot.”
Knox said how Florida implements the law is the $1 million question. But it may be the $1.5 billion question. By one estimate, that’s the dollar value of Florida’ legal marijuana sales by 2020.
WMFE is a partner with Health News Florida, a statewide collaborative reporting on health care.
Health reporting on WMFE is supported in part by AdventHealth.