Medical marijuana is now officially legal in Florida.
On Tuesday, the language of Amendment 2, a ballot initiative that was approved in November by 71 percent of the voters, took effect across the state, providing patients with a variety of serious health conditions the ability to petition their family doctors for access to cannabis medicine.
However, it is still going to be some time before the entire scope of the program is realized. The State Legislature, which was not exactly expeditious in the rule-making of the state’s low-THC program, must now hash out the in-and-out’s of Amendment 2 before it has the proper traction to service the hundreds of thousands of patients it is expected to in the coming years.
For now, patients suffering from “cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis can seek a recommendation to participate in the program from a licensed physician or specialist.
People with “other debilitating medical conditions 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” may also qualify for the program. This means as long as a doctor believes that cannabis could benefit a specific condition, it is covered under the language of the law.
These physicians, however, must be registered with the state after having completed an eight-hour online medical marijuana course. There are currently only 340 physicians from Tallahassee to Tampa with the power to discuss medical marijuana with their patients.
Fortunately, because the state already has a low-THC program in place, patients under the care of one of these doctors can immediately begin discussing medical marijuana as a treatment option. But patients must have a bona-fide relationship with a doctor before medical marijuana can even be considered.
So far, the plan is to direct qualified patients to the five licensed organizations that have been approved to distribute cannabis products across the state. But once the patient registry hits the 250,000 mark, the Department of Health will make three more licenses available.
But until the State Legislature manages to draft the final rules of the program, many jurisdictions have simply refused to allow the presence of medical marijuana operations. According to the Associated Press, 55 cities have imposed temporary zoning suspensions on dispensaries. Several more communities are considering similar bans, as well.
As many as 500,000 patients are expected to eventually take advantage of the state’s newfound medical marijuana program, which the latest analysis predicts will generate $1 billion within the next three years – making Florida the second largest medical marijuana market in the United States.