In states with new medical marijuana programs, the bureaucratic red tape some patients must navigate to receive proper medical can prove difficult. While some may be honestly curious in how marijuana can treat their illnesses, others use patients’ lack of information in a nefariously opportunistic manner.
This exact dilemma has recently played out in Florida, where the state continues to sort out the functionality of its medical marijuana program. As the Miami Herald reported, a bevy of medical marijuana clinics have sprouted up in the region. Stories abound of “predatory offices and clinics that act more like certification factories than medical practitioners,” writes the Herald.
Florida voters passed an amendment in 2016, expanding the state’s medical marijuana programs from the extremely limited one approved in 2014. Statewide estimates of patients seeking medical marijuana are around the 500,000 mark. This has created a swath of individuals seeking valuable specialized medical advice they may not receive from their general practitioner.
While any licensed physician can become trained and qualified to recommend marijuana, these clinics offer a specialized service. Often, their physicians review a patient’s existing medical records to determine whether the client qualifies for medical marijuana treatment under Florida law. Typically, the experience is quick and costs between $200 and $300 inclusive of the certification and follow-up visits.
One patient learned the hard way that some of these clinics are focused on your dollars, not your health.
“These clinics want to take your money. They don’t really care,” Cathy Paget told the Herald. “I felt like I was in a card mill and nobody wanted to take care of me.”
Frustrated by the experience, Paget went on to open her own clinic, where she properly educates clients in a fair and honest manner.
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Ben Pollara, however, sees it differently. Pollara was a political consultant who helped push the medical marijuana amendment through in Florida. He believes the medical marijuana clinics serve an important function while health care providers wait to see the decision from the state government.
“It’s tough to say that these guys are just purely craven and profit-driven because there’s just not a whole lot of profit in this [market] right now. You can’t do this in any real way without being a little bit of a true-believer,” Pollara said. “It’s the nature of the business and industry. […] There’s better ways to be greedy than opening up a chain of marijuana offices.”
It’s worth mentioning John Morgan’s views on Pollara. Morgan, the Orlando lawyer and marijuana activist, was a major player in driving medical cannabis to an approval vote in Florida. Many saw them as a team, but Morgan now blames Pollara for the state failing to pass legislation that would have created a system to enact the approved constitutional amendment. Quite frankly, Morgan told FloridaPolitics.com, “Ben Pollara fucked the patients.”
But it was Pat DeLuca, executive director of Compassionate Cannabis Clinic near Sarasota, who summed up the situation in Florida succinctly: “There are good actors and bad actors. Unfortunately, with the recent forward progress [of medical marijuana] in the state, there have been a lot of nefarious practices that have popped up. We call them parasites. And there are people operating within the space that don’t deserve to be.”