[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap]n what will certainly go down in the books the most memorable election in anyone’s memory, Florida voters returned to the polls this year and overwhelmingly approved that state’s medical marijuana ballot initiative, Amendment 2. While this historic vote was an incredibly important step in reducing the harm done to patients by the drug war, you can’t buy medical marijuana in Florida just yet. Like all things worth doing well, enacting Amendment 2 is going to take some time, and there are sure to be more than a few bumps in the road along the way. Here’s what we know and, maybe more importantly, what we don’t know about the shape that Florida’s new medical marijuana law is going to take over the next few months.
What Amendment 2 does and doesn’t do
In 2014, despite the fact that a majority of Florida’s voters cast a ballot in support of a robust medical marijuana system, the measure failed because it fell short of the constitutionally required 60% threshold. Organizers were relentless, however, and successfully pushed to get the issue back in front of voters in 2016, this time with a few changes. This time it got an astounding 71% of the vote, which was no doubt an incredible victory for Florida patients who have suffered for years as lawmakers have argued about whether or not they should be given access to this centuries-old medicine. But passage of a constitutional amendment that will enable regulations to be crafted is not the same thing as a law that was passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor. A constitutional amendment is a framework, and it will involve a lot of interpretation by state officials and potentially litigation by patients or advocates if they don’t agree with those interpretations.
What it does
- Establishes the medical conditions that qualify a patient for participation in Florida’s medical marijuana program.
- Compels the state to issue “reasonable regulations”, distribute medical marijuana identification cards to qualified patients and establish regulations for MMTC’s, or Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers. MMTC’s are defined as “an entity that acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes (including development of related products such as food, tinctures, aerosols, oils, or ointments), transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana, products containing marijuana, related supplies, or educational materials to qualifying patients or their caregivers”.
- Creates an incentive for state officials to meet deadlines by giving citizens the right to sue if they don’t.
What it doesn’t do
- Amendment 2 does not make medical marijuana immediately legal. It requires compliance by the Florida Department of Health in finalizing medical marijuana regulations by no later than June 3, 2017, and the first MMJ identification cards must be issued to patients by no later than September 3, 2017.
- It doesn’t set possession limits. Amendment 2 allows the Department of Health to determine these limits based on what “could reasonably be presumed to be an adequate supply for qualifying patients’ medical use, based on the best available evidence.”
- It doesn’t say how many growers, producers or retail locations will be allowed. This will be determined by the Department of Health.
- Amendment 2 does not create job protection for legal medical marijuana patients. It also states that there is no requirement for schools, prisons or places of employment to make accommodation for the on-site consumption of medical marijuana.
- Establish home grow. There is no provision in Amendment 2 for the cultivation of medical marijuana by patients or caregivers.
What are the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in Florida?
- Crohn’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Other debilitating medical conditions which must be “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”
How will I get certified as a medical marijuana patient?
Florida patients will first need to obtain written certification from a physician that has conducted a physical examination of the patient and made a full assessment of their medical records stating that the patient suffers from a debilitating medical condition. The certification must state that, in the physician’s opinion, the medical use of marijuana “would likely outweigh the potential health risks for the patient”. The physician must also indicate on the form how long the recommendation is valid for.
Once the physician certification form is received it will be provided to the Florida Department of Health for the issuance of a medical marijuana identification card. In the event the Department of Health fails to begin issuing identification cards within nine months of the effective date of Amendment 2 (June 3, 2017), then the physician certification form will serve as valid proof of certification until such time as the state begins issuing ID cards.
Will children with severe medical conditions be able to obtain medical marijuana in Florida?
Yes. Amendment 2 states that patients under the age of 18 may participate with written parental permission. Amendment 2 will also supersede Florida’s current low THC oil law.
Can doctors get in trouble just for issuing medical marijuana recommendations?
No. Amendment 2 states that a physician is not subject to criminal or civil liability or administrative sanctions under Florida law “solely for issuing a physician certification with reasonable care to a person diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition”.
What to expect next
The passage of Amendment 2 is indeed historic, but the Department of Health has got their work cut out for them. Over the next few months they must draft and implement regulations and issue licenses for an entire new industry that will be worth millions, perhaps billions, of dollars. Technically Florida’s medical marijuana law becomes effective on January 3, 2017. The Department of Health is expected to finalize the medical marijuana regulations by June 3, and they must be ready to issue ID cards by September 3.
Needless to say there is much to be done and a limited amount of time to do it in. Stay tuned to Southern Cannabis for the latest updates on the progress of Florida’s new medical marijuana law.
You can read the full text of Amendment 2 by downloading the PDF.