Politics 

The latest in cannabis legalization including laws and policies, legislators’ views, election coverage, and more.

The Wait for Medical Cannabis in Florida Could Be a Long One

Two years after voters narrowly rejected a medical marijuana law in Florida, the state overwhelmingly passed Amendment 2 last week. But despite the 4 million votes cast on Election Day to legalize cannabis for medical use, patients eager to access medicine may have a long wait ahead of them as the Legislature gears up to debate the measure and how to implement it.

The new law could be rolled out by the state Department of Health without input from lawmakers, but past precedent suggests Question 2 will become the subject of vigorous debate once the 2017 legislative session begins in March. Lawmakers in the past have criticized medical legalization as a slippery slope to adult-use laws, and as such have regulated the state’s medical system tightly. Under a law last year allowing for low-THC medicinal cannabis, patients are required to obtain approval from two certified doctors, after which a 90-day waiting period takes effect.

“You want to get patients access to this as quickly as possible to find out if it really does help them.”
Jeff Sharkey, Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida

Advocates worry a similarly restrictive approach to rolling out Amendment 2 could make delays under the new system, too. Jeff Sharkey, who co-runs the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, told Orlando’s News 13 that extending current limits to the new law would be an affront to the spirit of a law that residents passed overwhelmingly on Election Day, with 71.3 percent in favor.

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“There’s no reason to have (patients) wait 90 days, and there’s no reason to have them see another doctor, necessarily,” Sharkey said. “For children, it may be a little bit different, but really, you want to get patients access to this as quickly as possible to find out if it really does help them.”

Topics expected to be taken up by the Legislature include how medical marijuana can be prescribed and how long patients will have to wait before their prescriptions can be filled. Past statements by officials could give some indication of the intensely hands-on approach that some advocates are concerned about.

“If we just take the idea that, ‘Hey, it’s a free market, let’s just let the free market decide how we handle cannabis in Florida,’ then we will, I promise you, tomorrow turn into Colorado,” Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) said during deliberations over low-potency marijuana legalization.

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The law’s rollout could also be slowed by local governments. Orlando commissioners have already extended a moratorium on cannabis dispensaries by six months, to July 1, giving authorities more time to come up with land-use rules such as where establishments can be located.

“With the passage of the ballot language last Tuesday, as well as the change in the rules, we thought there was only going to end up being one dispensary in our community, but there can be any number of dispensaries,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Changes under Amendment 2 take effect in January, but ballot language gives the state up to six months to create rules to govern the implementation process. In the meantime, there’s a huge demand for the system to be up and running. The state’s medical marijuana industry is projected to be worth more than $1.5 billion by 2020, according to market research from New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research.

“The successful passage of the medical initiative in the country’s fourth most populous state will create one of the largest medical cannabis programs in the U.S.,” New Frontier CEOGiadha DeCarcer said in a statement. “The state’s large elderly population represents a potentially large cannabis patient base, but there will need to be a significant education process to familiarize them with the potential benefits of cannabis and its uses.”

Florida could command as much as 7.9 percent of the total US legal cannabis market by 2020, according to the report, and could comprise up to 16 percent of the country’s medical market.