When the medical cannabis amendment in Florida was approved by over 71 percent of voters during the November 2016 ballots, local residents assumed the fight to legalize medical cannabis treatment was over. Instead, they were met with an uphill battle over the implementation of medical cannabis laws in the state.
Under state law, smoking cannabis is considered to be illegal. Registered patients are allowed to vape and consume edibles. Furthermore, low-THC derivatives are permissible for patients diagnosed with cancer, seizure disorders and chronic muscle spasms.
This statewide ban is very controversial, as smoking is the main method of cannabis consumption for local patients. Compared to other options, the effects of smoking is instantaneous and more predictable. A patient suffering from chronic pain due to a severe back injury may choose to smoke cannabis for immediate relief. The delayed effects of non-herbal cannabis are also ineffective for patients suffering from anxiety and PTSD.
In a 2013 study, McGill University professor and physician Mark Ware concluded,
“Cannabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or airway cancers… Efforts to develop cleaner cannabinoid delivery systems can and should continue, but at least for now, (those) who smoke small amounts of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes can breathe a little bit easier.”
In an attempt to challenge the ban, Orlando attorney John Morgan filed a lawsuit against the state. The move suggests the language in the ballot amendment that indicates smoking medical cannabis in public locations could be banned means it should be allowed in private places.
John Morgan (Morgan & Morgan P.A. photo)
Morgan clarified this was the intent of the amendment. Patients were expecting lawmakers to handle the implementation process in the same way other states have enforced consumption laws – to allow cannabis to be smoke and grown privately.
Interestingly, Morgan expects the curveball to ignite even greater changes, to the tune of fully legalizing cannabis on a recreational level. If lawmakers are successful in reducing the current legislation to a very rigid set of guidelines that limits cannabis consumption to less desirable mediums, local supporters will be left with no choice but to rally towards a more comprehensive solution.
“If something is not allowed in public, it is allowed in private,” cited Morgan at a press conference outside the Leon County Courthouse. “It’s as clear to all of you as it is to any first-grader taking first-grade logic.”
Another disappointing aspect of Florida’s medical cannabis regulations is its limitations on growing licenses. At the moment, the law caps the number to 17; and every licensed grower is only allowed to serve a maximum total of 25 medical dispensaries. Additionally, a handful of cities, such as Winter Park, Orlando and Maitland, are already moving to block or limit dispensaries in areas with high demand for cannabis treatment.
In Orlando, medical cannabis dispensaries are capped at seven. Moreover, establishments are not allowed to be located within 1,000 feet of educational institutions and 200 feet of residential spaces. Dispensaries must not be within a mile from each other.