Florida Legislature (Finally!) Passes Medical Marijuana Law

Jun 15, 2017

Although 71% of Florida voters approved medical marijuana in the 2016 election, state legislators initially failed to pass regulations implementing Amendment 2. Recently in a special legislative session, the legislature overwhelmingly passed a measure that Governor Scott intends to sign into law. While I disagree with some aspects of the bill, overall I am delighted with the new law and believe it will provide much-needed help to Floridians suffering from debilitating conditions.

The Good

  • The best part of the new law is it drops the 90-day waiting period patients had to suffer through before physicians could order medical cannabis for them. While it’s unclear how long it will take for a patient to be able to purchase medical cannabis once the physician has provided the certification, patients will no longer have to suffer through a long waiting period.
  • A patient may now receive a 70-day supply (up from 45 days) and two refills (instead of one) before recertification is required. This means doctors visits will occur approximately every 210 days instead of every 90 days.
  • Physicians will now “certify” patients, as opposed to “ordering” medical cannabis and creating a treatment plan. “Prescribing” cannabis is still illegal under Federal law, so this provides additional protection for the doctor.
  • Vaporized cannabis oil will be allowed. (A previous version of the bill did not allow for this). Additionally, vaporized grounded “flower” will be permitted, if sold in sealed, tamper-proof receptacles.
  • Edibles, such as baked goods and other foods, will be available in single-dose servings and in packaging not attractive to children.
  • A research center will be established at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. We need proper research, and I intend to offer help however I can!

The Bad

  • Now that patients are being evaluated and certified during a single office visit, without proper patient education they run the risk of not receiving good instructions on how to best implement the treatment protocol. (I have developed ways for patients to introduce cannabis-based treatments that increase the likelihood of success, and I am creating a series of educational tools to aid my patients in figuring out what approach works best for them).
  • Telemedicine for medical cannabis will not be allowed. This is unfortunate because I have patients who live 5-6 hours away from our office and others who are too sick to leave their home. The option to have appointments via telemedicine would make treating these patients much more feasible. Thank goodness patients will only need to visit the office every 210 days, but even this may be impossible for some.  When appropriate, I will offer recommendations for patients who cannot travel to see me but can get certified by a local physician.

The Ugly

  • Smoking cannabis is still not permitted. From a medical perspective, I firmly believe people should avoid smoking  substances unless there’s no other option. Reports indicate that some patients only receive the treatment’s full benefits through the “entourage effect” associated with burning and inhaling all of the chemical components of the plant. John Morgan, the author of Florida’s Amendment 2, intends to fight this prohibition in court, defending the rights of patients who believe the benefits of them smoking medical cannabis outweigh the risks.
  • Due to the State’s delay in passing this law, and the relative quickness with which it will likely be implemented, the State may be unable to keep up with processing new patient certifications. Our team is working hard to ensure patients obtain appointments as quickly as possible. Please be patient as we strive to keep the growing pains to a minimum).

This is an exciting time. As one of the first pediatricians in Florida to provide medical cannabis treatment to qualified children, I am delighted for the opportunity to positively impact the health and well-being of a greater number of adults and children.

Stay tuned; I will continue to write about the new rules as they go into effect and more information becomes available.

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