Put patients above politics: Medical marijuana in Florida
The most divisive election in American history left most Floridians wondering, “Is there anything we can agree on?”
Turns out there is: medical cannabis. Florida voters didn’t just pass Amendment 2, they did so by the largest margin of any pro-cannabis measure in U.S. history.
So what happens next?
The new amendment goes into effect on Jan. 3, and while medical cannabis might be legal, many aspects of the new law won’t take effect right away. The Florida Department of Health has intimated that, come January, patients who did not previously qualify, but do under Amendment 2, will be able to access medical cannabis very quickly. What remains unclear is both how that will work and if the existing “Dispensing Organizations” — a term that doesn’t exist in Amendment 2 — will be able to fulfill even that initial demand.
But in any case, the department will also have to finalize new regulations by June 3 next year, and it will likely do so at the direction of the Florida Legislature, which is expected to pass implementing legislation during the spring session.
In my home state of Pennsylvania — before Nov. 8 one of the most recent states to pass a medical cannabis law — the regulatory process began in April and will finish before the New Year. It will only be eight months to regulation, and that’s for a state that previously didn’t have a law. Florida has a foundation to build from.
Florida also has the regulatory experience of Pennsylvania and 24 other states to draw upon. This is a complex and delicate process, to be sure, but it is not a reinvention of the wheel.
What should Florida look for as it implements this amendment?
A good regulatory process puts patients above politics. Even with Florida’s previous experience with its flawed cannabidiol law, there is reason for optimism; the people have spoken, and there is a mandate to center regulation around patients. That’s a great place to start and end.
That’s not to say things are going to be easy for implementing a more-robust program. One of the central issues that regulators will take up is expanding the amount of licenses for cultivation and dispensing. Considering that the initial regulatory process was contentious and brought scrutiny, current license holders understandably have an interest in opposing new licenses as they aim to monopolize the market.
During the course of the campaign, elected officials privately conceded that passage of Amendment 2 would expand the number of licenses awarded.
The significant mandate delivered by voters will require a new settlement about the number and types of licenses to be issued.
Another area that will be closely watched is how the Florida Department of Health and politicians engage doctors to participate in the program.
It takes time to get doctors acclimated to a program. To get around the federal legal issue, doctors make a “certification” for patients, but doctors in new states remain slow adopters. New York’s medical-marijuana program all but stalled in part because not enough doctors are making recommendations. To avoid this issue, the Department of Health should adhere to public will and give a full-throated endorsement of the program and make sure that doctors feel safe to get patients certified and write recommendations.
Amendment 2 gives Florida a historic mandate to bypass the “hurry up and wait” that other states have experienced. It’s now the state’s responsibility to patients with conditions such as AIDS, Crohn’s disease, cancer and epilepsy to put politics aside and quickly implement a program. While Floridians may remain deeply politically divided, the one thing almost everyone agrees: It’s time for a real medical-cannabis program.
Michael Bronstein is the lead consultant for the American Trade Association for Cannabis & Hemp and serves on the policy committee for United For Care, which led the successful campaign to pass Amendment 2.