What’s the Status of Medical Marijuana in Florida?

A medical cannabis shop in Denver, Colorado in 2011. (Unmodified photo by O’Dea used under a Creative Commons license. http://bit.ly/1p2b8Ke)

The history of legal marijuana usage in Florida began in mid-2014 with the passage of Senate Bills 1030 and 1700.

Following Rick Scott’s signing of this legislation, the marijuana strain known as “Charlotte’s Web” was allowed for medicinal use. With high levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) this strain was developed for the explicit purpose of medicinal use.

While THC produces the psychoactive reaction to marijuana, CBD is known to have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotectant effects.

These benefits led to legalization on the basis of helping children and adults suffering from epilepsy, seizures, and cancer. The following November, Floridians voted on Amendment 2, an amendment to the Florida constitution which would have licensed Florida physicians to prescribe medical marijuana.

Requiring a 60% majority to pass, the measure failed with 57.6% voting in favor of the amendment, short by only about a hundred thousand votes. Despite this failure proponents continued campaigning. Their work came to fruition with the passage of Amendment 2 on the 2016 ballot which garnered a supermajority of 71.3% in favor.

The overwhelming majority that voted “yes” on the amendment failed to motivate the Florida legislature, which did not pass legislation to advance the amendment in the regular 2017 session.

Due to this lack of action, medical marijuana was established as one of the topics for the special session of the legislature in June of 2017. Senate Bill 8A, The Medical Use of Marijuana Act, passed both houses on June 9th.

The bill outlines the medical conditions which qualify for medical marijuana use including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), glaucoma, epilepsy, cancer, and “a terminal condition,” among others.

For children and adults with debilitating conditions, a caregiver can administer the drug. The smoking of medical marijuana is banned by the bill leaving vaping and edibles as legal means of administration.

Patients will be granted a 70-day supply of medical marijuana with two refills. Though taxation of marijuana in states with legal recreational marijuana has been a bonanza, SB 8A does not levy a tax on medical marijuana.

In order to prescribe medical marijuana, physicians are required to take a course through the Florida Medical Association or Florida Osteopathic Medical Association costing $500.

Despite the apparent freedoms the amendment and bill afford, regulations over medical marijuana abound.

Much of the legislation thus far grants extensive power to the Florida Department of Health over registering and regulating medical marijuana treatment centers, distributing caregiver identification cards, determining the number of patients a caregiver may aid, and establishing regulations regarding the amount of marijuana to be prescribed.

Senate Bill 8A will continue on to the Governor’s desk, but a veto seems unlikely in light of the Governor’s call that “the Legislature enact legislation implementing the amendment approved by the voters” during the special session.

Florida continues to follow in the footsteps of 29 other states in the march towards medical or recreational legalization of marijuana in the face of both Gonzalez vs. Raich (2005) and the increasing scrutiny of Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice.

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