The Medical Marijuana Gray Area In Florida

Feb 2, 2017
Originally published on February 3, 2017 1:01 pm

There’s a lot of confusion in Florida when it comes to medical marijuana.

There are existing laws, Amendment 2 that was passed by voters but still needs to go through the legislature, and somewhere in between, the Florida Department of Health is issuing rules.

And meanwhile, patients and doctors are figuring it out as they go along.

Dayana Aguilar, 22, has had seizures since she was a child. Sometimes with dire consequences.

Four months ago, the Hialeah resident was boiling potatoes and had a seizure. The pan fell on top of her.

“And I was burned almost half of my leg and half of my arm.”

She lacks health insurance, so her treatment options are limited. She does resort at times to smoking marijuana. Illegally.

“That’s what happens either when I don’t have, either my pills, because I don’t have health insurance, or I can’t get smoke that day because I don’t have the money and I don’t work.”

On Jan. 3, the day Amendment 2 became effective, Aguilar started looking for a doctor to recommend marijuana, legally.

Amendment 2 would make full-strength medical marijuana available for 10 conditions, like HIV, Multiple Sclerosis, cancer, and seizures like the one Aguilar gets.

But getting legal cannabis in Florida is not that simple. Once voters passed Amendment 2, it left the Florida Legislature to hash out the details. They’ll start in March, and face a September deadline. In the meantime, the Florida Department of Health issued draft rules for doctors and patients to follow.

And the health department will be holding a series of public hearings across the state.

“I was surprised when the draft rule came out and not particularly thrilled with the content of the draft rule.”

That’s Ben Pollara, one of Amendment 2’s architects. The short version of the new rules? The Department of Health has added the Amendment 2 conditions into the existing medical marijuana laws. Florida already allows marijuana that doesn’t get you high to treat conditions like epilepsy, and full-strength marijuana for the terminally ill.

But doing this is a little bit like a square peg going into a round hole.

Pollara’s big issue? How the state is handling the other conditions not directly outlined in the law. The Department of Health wants to give the Florida Board of Medicine the authority to decide what those conditions may be. Pollara said that’s a huge problem.

“It is clearly defined and requires no further definition. It is patently up to the physicians and that’s what we intended when we wrote it.”

The law has big implications for doctors as well. Dr. Joseph Rosado, a primary care doctor who’s opened up a separate medical marijuana practice in Central Florida, says in the past few weeks, he’s started seeing patients who would qualify under the new rules. He’s gone from seeing five medical marijuana patients a day to treating 10 to 15 in a single work day.

Rosado plans to lobby the Department of Health against what's called the 90 day rule. That requires a doctor to have a patient under their care for 90 full days before they can recommend medical marijuana.

He says that’s too long a wait for some.

“Particularly for an individual who is terminally ill. I’ve had thus far 12 individuals not make the 90 days because, you know, the disease overtook them and they passed away.”

Doctors, patients and even currently licensed growers are likely to be among those showing up at public hearings across the state. To make matters even muddier, some dispensaries are already providing medical marijuana for conditions listed in Amendment 2, before the rule is finalized.

The Florida Department of Health will hold five meetings around the state this week:

  • 2–4:00 p.m. Monday, Duval County Health Department, 900 University Blvd. North, Jacksonville, FL 32211
  • 10 a.m.-noon Tuesday,  Broward County Health Department, 780 SW 24th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315
  • 9-11 a.m. Wednesday, Florida Department of Health, Tampa Branch Laboratory, 3602 Spectrum Blvd. Tampa, FL 33612
  • 6–8:00 p.m. Wednesday, Orange County Health Department, 6102 Lake Ellenor Drive, Orlando, FL 32809
  • 4-6 p.m. Thursday, Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Room 148 Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0850