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Since Amendment 2 became law on Jan. 3, health department officials and the Florida Legislature have been scrambling to adjust the regulatory framework for medical marijuana that Florida already had to meet the new conditions.
The existing program allowed terminal patients to use full-strength marijuana, and authorized patients suffering from chronic seizures, severe muscle spasms or cancer to receive low-THC medical cannabis. Although the state Legislature approved non-euphoric medical marijuana first in 2014, it took about two more years before patients were able to get access, due to lawsuits and administrative red tape regarding which nurseries were allowed to grow and distribute medical marijuana. The first dispensary opened last July in Tallahassee and more have popped up around Florida since then, though many city and county governments, including the city of Orlando and Orange County, have passed moratoriums on opening dispensaries. Currently, the system allows seven nurseries to grow, package and sell marijuana for the entire state, either by home delivery or through dispensaries.
And here's where an already controversial topic gets more convoluted. Right after Amendment 2 went into effect in early January, it wasn't immediately clear what doctors and patients could legally do under state laws while they waited for the Department of Health to craft new rules. Christian Bax, director of the state Office of Compassionate Use, finally clarified that while health officials created regulations, doctors could decide if they wanted to prescribe marijuana to patients with medical conditions listed in the constitutional amendment after treating them for 90 days. The health department's stance sounded pretty flexible, but some, like Jeff Scott, general counsel for the Florida Medical Association, urged doctors to proceed with caution in legally shaky territory, according to the News Service of Florida.
"The Florida Department of Health, physicians, dispensing organizations and patients remain bound by existing law and rule," says Mara Gambineri, spokeswoman for the state Health Department. "The Department is committed to quickly moving through the rulemaking process to create a regulatory structure for Amendment 2. ... In partnership with law enforcement, enforcement actions initiated by the department against patients, doctors and businesses will be focused on those operating outside the regulatory structure in Florida law."
After that initial hiccup, the state health department's rollout of proposed regulations to the public in early February was contentious, to say the least.
Health officials had, essentially, adapted the state's limited medical marijuana program to take in the new patients created under Amendment 2. One of the proposed rules stated only patients with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis would qualify for medical marijuana; any other debilitating medical conditions that could qualify would be determined by the Florida Board of Medicine. Advocates argued this was against the spirit of Amendment 2, which left that decision up to individual doctors. The state health department also chose not to expand the number of dispensing organizations in Florida who could produce marijuana or to separate growers from the dispensary process, which Amendment 2 allows.