The Fight for Medical Marijuana in Florida

town hall florida medical marijuana

For Florida, there’s lots to do and not much time to do it. In November 2016, voters showed up in droves and passed Amendment 2–The Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative–by an overwhelming 71%. Now, officials have until June 3, 2017, to sort through all the current kinks and issues of MMJ regulations. Citizens and representatives are rising to the challenge: they’re fighting, hoping to make medical marijuana an accessible resource.

Unique Challenges

Florida faces a challenge unique to their situation: other recently legalized cannabis states have possession limitations written into the new laws. However, Florida is a medical-only state. This means that these limits, and the fate of residents, rests in the hands of the Florida Department of Health. So far, officials have created and recommended restrictions on medical marijuana usage, specifically what kinds of patients can qualify and where they have access to it.

Amendment 2, which was enacted on January 3, 2017, is missing many of the details that Florida citizens have been hoping for, especially when compared to the direction of other state legalization efforts. The language is both brief and limiting: it requires MMJ-seeking patients to obtain a physician’s certification and a valid state-issued medical card. These cards, however, are not set to be available until September 3, 2017. This is frustrating for state residents who are left in limbo, living in a state with legalized cannabis, but unable to access it thanks to the rhetoric of the same five-page bill.

Showing Up in Droves

Floridians are fighting for MMJ through their verbal and physical opposition. Residents have flooded town halls and hearings, voicing their concerns. In what are normally quiet meetings, rooms are now packed with over 1,000 constituents across the state, demanding for their concerns to be heard: they want less medical marijuana restrictions, and they want it now.

Citizens are fighting to expand the current law, which allows for non-inhaled, low-THC content cannabis, for patients with very specific conditions. These ‘allowed’ ailments include cancer or illnesses that explicitly cause chronic seizures or spasms. As of last March, terminal patients are now able to access to marijuana products (still non-smoked) with higher cannabinoid content. Activists are also bringing attention to another restrictive aspect of MMJ: there’s a current requirement that a patient must be under a doctor’s care for a minimum of 90 days before allowing access to medical marijuana; it’s up to the physician to decide whether or not it’s necessary for a patient to use cannabis.

Further backlash comes from the massive organization of Amendment 2. It’s resulting in the Health Department assuming responsibility for all areas of this issue, from issuing licenses to deciding the number of dispensaries in each Florida county, as well as the policies regarding medical growth, retail, and licensure of cannabis.

Sun Setting on Regulation?

Fortunately, the Florida Department of Health has until June — a short window — to figure out how to accommodate the requests of Florida residents looking for answers. Until then, Florida continues their battle. The same voters who showed up in November are making the most of their time, by making calls to their representatives, creating petitions, and circulating awareness within their state. Florida is fighting for MMJ, trying to make their newly legalized status mean something beyond restriction.