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Florida Governor Scott Signs Bill to Expand MMJ Program

Florida Governor Scott Signs Bill to Expand MMJ Program

In June after several attempts, the Florida legislature successfully passed a medicinal cannabis bill that Florida Governor Rick Scott signed, SB 8-A, which expands the state’s medical cannabis treatment program.

Governor Scott said,

“The constitutional amendment was passed overwhelmingly, and I’m glad the House and Senate were able to come together for a bill that makes sense for our state.”

It is important for medical cannabis patients in Florida to fully understand the changes in Amendment 2 and be able to review who is eligible for cannabis treatments and how to access them. (Read the new bill, SB 8-A, here, which identifies the changes in the new legislation.)

What Amendment 2 allows

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Amendment 2 expands the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in three ways and creates new research opportunities:

  • It allows for the establishment of ten additional medical cannabis growers by October 3rd, beyond the seven that had been permitted;
  • The list of qualifying diseases and conditions has been expanded;
  • While the initial allowable number of dispensaries per grower is limited to 25, that number will expand as the registry list of patients grows; and,
  • Further, the bill encumbers millions of dollars for new research funding in the area of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The new research funds will be awarded to the Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center.

The new bill also eliminates a “waiting period” by striking the former requirement that a patient be seen by a certified doctor for 90 days prior to the doctor’s issuing a certificate for treatment.

Prohibitions in Amendment 2

Amendment is not all about expansion, however. It removes any legal permission to smoke cannabis as a medicinal treatment—a controversial stipulation that likely will be challenged in the courts. A key proviso is that municipalities may opt to ban dispensaries within their town limits.

Who is eligible for medical cannabis treatment in Florida?

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Qualified patients with most debilitating diseases may opt to receive cannabis treatments. The decision as to which patient qualifies under the state law is made by a certified doctor who has undergone a two-hour course and related test. The exception is a medical doctor who has determined that a patient has a terminal condition.

Here is how the new law defines a qualified patient:

“Qualified patient’ means a resident of this state who has been added to the medical marijuana use registry by a qualified physician to receive marijuana or a marijuana delivery device for a medical use and who has a qualified patient identification card.”

The process is that certified doctors initially determine that no other doctor is working with the patient on accessing medical marijuana treatments. The doctor then adds that patient to the state’s medical cannabis registry. Qualified patients then receive a state-issued ID from the registry which allows the patient to access treatment.

The text of the new law offers a list online of qualifying diseases—from the expected ones such as cancer, AIDS, or any terminal condition to perhaps more surprising covered conditions such as PTSD, being HIV-positive, epilepsy, and glaucoma.

Following are the qualifying conditions as listed in SB 8-A:

  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Positive status for human immunodeficiency virus
  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated
  • A terminal condition diagnosed by a physician other than the qualified physician issuing the physician certification
  • Chronic nonmalignant pain

Accessing treatments

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Once a patient has a state-issued registry card, how do they legally access treatments? Oil infusions, vaping, pills, and edibles (which are defined in the law as “commercially produced food items made with marijuana oil, but no other form of marijuana, that are produced and dispensed by a medical marijuana treatment center”) remain permissible under the newly expanded Florida law. Only patients using low-THC cannabis may use their treatments in public with the exception of school grounds.

Florida Medical Marijuana Law Expanded

Florida Medical Marijuana Law Expanded

Florida has approved medical marijuana legislation that would allow terminally ill patients access to medical cannabis, which is being referred to as the “Right to Try” act.

Senator Rob Bradley and Representative Matt Gaetz sponsored the bill (HB 307).

“We can finally deliver on the promise we made to those suffering families two years ago. The delays are over,”

said Bradley.

Indeed, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act passed in 2014 promised a conservative medical marijuana program for patients in Florida, but was plagued with legal challenges in a state that has no interest in creating a cannabis industry.

“Today was an important step to take back control of the situation and get it into the hands of families as soon as possible,” said Bradley. Governor Rick Scott office worked with legislators to craft an acceptable version of the bill, which he ultimately signed.

Critics of the bill are skeptical that the new bill will continue to cause legal complications, which will further stall medical marijuana efforts.

“Unfortunately, because of the persistent ineptitude of the state legislature, there are presently zero eligible medical marijuana patients in the state. The bill’s passage today is merely more lipstick on the pig that is Tallahassee’s failed medical marijuana.”

said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care.

The new legislation will allow patients to consume non-smokeable forms of cannabis produced from strains that are higher in CBD and low in THC (hemp). The language of the new law also permits manufacturers to produce concentrates using the whole plant, like CBD oil which can be vaporized or ingested. Five cultivation licenses have been issued so far. There are also provisions for proper labeling and penalties to doctors who wrongly prescribe cannabis.

Up to 250,000 Florida patients will be able to participate in the program. Should more patients qualify, the program would authorize permits to more dispensaries and cultivators to accommodate the expansion.

Although the current program is modest, there are plans for a larger medical marijuana program that will appear on the ballot in November. The proposed constitutional amendment would be similar to Colorado’s Amendment 64, but would not legalize recreational marijuana.

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