Gary J Stein

In the last issue of HIGHLIFE Magazine, I mentioned that Floridians pathway to medical cannabis was a bizarre rollercoaster ride. But rather that putting on the brakes and coming into the station, the cars are still moving forward, where they are going is anybody’s guess.

Since January, when the bill was set to go into effect, Floridians have been dealing with the “Grey Area” of the law, stuck between the rules established in the Charlotte’s web bill, SB1030 from the 2014 legislative session, and the new rules still waiting to be established for Amendment 2, which passed by a margin of 71.3% in November of 2016.

There were major differences between the two sets of rules. The previous rules mandated a 90-day waiting period from the first contact with a doctor certified to recommend medical cannabis, until the patients could be certified, gain a Medical Cannabis card and purchase their medicine.

The legislature was supposed to create a bill to implement the amendment and establish those rules, but the adjourned with the bill still awaiting final vote. If they didn’t come back to Tallahassee, the bill would die.

After a month of political posturing, with the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, and the legislators all sending out hints that they MAY do something, the governor finally called for a special session. It would have been nice if he did it for the sake of the medical cannabis bill but it wasn’t the case. In fact, it was to force the legislature to fund two of his pet projects to the tune of $100 M and $84M, respectively for Visit Florida, an advertising campaign for tourism that sent out ads as far as Syria and Saudi Arabia, and Enterprise Florida, a corporate welfare scheme where he bribes companies to move to Florida. In the previous year, Visit Florida produced a $1M ad with the rapper Pitbull walking on the beach with two bikini models that was never approved, and Enterprise Florida gave money to companies that moved only briefly to Florida and left without creating a single job. For those reasons the legislature (especially the house) decided to defund the projects.

But thanks to a another backroom deal to protect the Speakers school funding bill that gave few funds to public schools and more to charter schools (many which had failed in previous years), the governor and the speaker agreed to go back to redo the budget, albeit without the approval of the Senate president, who was blindsided by the move. Once they decided to go back, under pressure from the public and legislative champions, they agreed to finish the Amendment 2 bill, which was reborn as SB8A.

Even this process included more backroom deals, despite a promise by the legislature of transparency. But the bill passed without little public input.

Finally, on Friday, June 23rd, at end of the business day, Floridians needing medical cannabis just walked out of the fog and into the smog, as Governor Rick Scott finally signed SB8A into law.

But as I said, they were out of the fog, and into the smog. They are out of the grey area, but now have to deal with the restrictions and foibles of a bill, polluted by back-room deals and restrictions that came from far-from-compassionate and far-from-accurate sources, like Drug Free America Foundation, who were more concerned about getting people into treatment programs and court-mandated diversion programs.

That is why the bill stated that anyone found medicating in public, using product with more than .5% THC could be arrested and charged with a first degree misdemeanor. If a law enforcement officer catches a patient with their medicine and the patient can’t produce their MMJ card, they are subject to a second-degree misdemeanor. Cultivation is still a felony.

One main bone of contention by many was the ban of smoking. Many reasons were given in the legislative process as to why, including bad research claiming lung disease and cancer issues, and comments such as “It’s an unhealthy habit”(but apparently healthier than drinking alcohol to access in the minds of some legislators). But the real fact is that it is easier to tell if a patient is using high-THC product simply by noticing if they are smoking it.

The good side, however, is that the damn 90-day wait is over, and anybody still within their 90-day wait can now get their card and their medicine, and the doctors are free to recommend without fear of reprisal if the patient presents with the conditions noted in the amendment: (a) Cancer (b) Epilepsy (c)Glaucoma (d) Positive status for HIV (e) AIDS (f) PTSD (g) Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS) (h) Crohn’s disease (i)Parkinson’s disease (j) Multiple sclerosis (k) Medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated in paragraphs (a)-(j) (l) A terminal condition diagnosed by a physician other than the qualified physician issuing the physician certification and (m) Chronic non-malignant pain

That all sounds great, but physicians will still need to worry about (k) and (m), because the bill put into place a “pattern review board” with the DOH’s Board of Medicine(BOM) and Board of Osteopathic Medicine (BOOM). They will be scrutinizing the certified doctor’s recommendation, even though they won’t be actually speaking to the doctor or patient or witness their interaction during examination.

So all rules delineated in the law are now in force, except those with dates of implementation, such as issuing new licenses and setting up data bases.

It’s also the official time for any citizen to file a lawsuit if the law does not conform to the amendment, and several lawsuits are already ready to file, including one for home-grow, one for smoking and several against any counties that limit the number of dispensaries, since it limits access to the medicine.

This ride is far from over, but it’s going to be a bumpy one.

Stay tuned.