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State Has Until Monday To Implement Medical Marijuana Rules

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Patients, doctors and growers are urging the Florida Department of Health to set new rules for the use of non-euphoric medical marijuana as soon as possible. Photo: Creative Commons.

Photo: Creative Commons.

Felicia Duncan’s 7-year-old daughter Emma has been living with epilepsy for years. She been seizure-free since January thanks to medical marijuana. But it costs her Mom $391 a month.

“It is very, very expensive right now,” Duncan said. “And everything has to come out of my pocket, doctor visits and medications and everything.”

When voters approved Amendment 2 in November, it said the state would allow full-strength medical marijuana for 10 conditions, such as cancer, PTSD and Parkinson’s disease. It also allows it for similar conditions.

Emma is now able to ride a bike, swim and speak in complete sentences. It’s a huge boost to her quality of life.

But they’ve run into a problem. Emma’s current neurologist has stopped recommending medical marijuana. So her mom’s looking for a new doctor – and the rules right now require a 90-day relationship with that doctor – and her daughter’s current supply will run out before then.

“But now that the 90 day isn’t being relinquished, that’s gonna be two months she’ll be without and I’m just scared she’s gonna go back down to what we were in the beginning,” Duncan said.

The waiting period is only one of the issues the Florida Department of Health must tackle as it races to implement the law before Monday’s deadline. Officials there have to set guidelines for everything from how patients will get ID cards to the way the state picks new growers.

“I have come to decide anything involving the Department of Health will not be smooth, and I say that with all sincere affection because they have a monumental task,” said Louis Rotundo, a lobbyist for Cannabis Systems Inc. – a company wanting one of the 10 new licenses approved by the new law.

Rotundo says he thinks there could be 100 new applications to grow, process and sell medical marijuana in Florida.

“We have moved a long way forward in this state,” Rotundo said. “And patients will have this drug available very shortly. Because obviously it takes some time to grow this and process the product, figure three or four months.”

He says the hope is that increased competition will drive down the price of medical marijuana. That’s important to patients like Duncan.

But nothing in Amendment 2 or the bill passed to implement it requires an insurance company to pay for medical marijuana.

“There’s no help from anyone on any costs that come out of medical marijuana at this point, and I’m hoping that down the road there will be some leeway and help out there to help families like mine,” Duncan said.

Another thing that could happen in the next three or four months?

John Morgan, the Orlando attorney and outspoken medical marijuana funder behind Amendment 2, spoke in May about his take on the law.

“I’m gonna sue them,” he said at the time.

Last week, Morgan tweeted he’ll be in Tallahassee soon to file his lawsuit.

Morgan is upset because the law doesn’t allow smoking. Vaping is OK, and edibles and oil drops are also allowed. But smoking is off the table.

“Look, in my amendment, it was very clear. Smoking would be banned in public places. So my amendment, everyone knew smoking was included,” Morgan said. “I wouldn’t have banned it in public if we didn’t include smoking. The problem is you get these guys in Tallahassee and they do what they want.”

And those lawmakers already are talking about changing the medical marijuana laws again. They’ll be back starting in January.

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.

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Abe Aboraya

About Abe Aboraya

Health Reporter

Abe Aboraya started writing for newspapers in High School. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe ... Read Full Bio »