Florida Medical Marijuana: Changes Likely Coming in 2022
- Two bills have been introduced that could change some of the rules relating to Florida’s medical marijuana program in 2022.
- If passed, the bills could bring major changes to the way medical marijuana doctors and dispensaries advertise in the state, among other changes.
- Florida’s medical marijuana patient population has been steadily increasing while the OMMU has sped up the approval process for a medical marijuana card.
- Advocates inside and outside the government are working to legalize recreational marijuana in Florida in 2022.
The 2022 legislative session is upon us, and with it, some changes may be coming to the Florida medical marijuana program. Florida lawmakers are working to improve access to medical marijuana but restrict advertising biomedical marijuana doctors and dispensaries. While increased access is great for the state’s more than 600,000 medical marijuana cardholders, the advertising rules are of some concern to medical marijuana doctors and activists alike.
What’s in the new Florida medical marijuana bills?
On the first day of the 2022 session, Democratic state Rep. Andrew Learned (Hillsborough County) and Republican state Rep. Spencer Roach (Lee County), launched a bipartisan effort to revise certain statutes in the state’s medical marijuana program.
Potential changes include the ability of patients to use telehealth services for an initial medical marijuana card exam. This would allow prospective patients to consult with medical marijuana doctors from the comfort of their own homes. Given that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, this is welcome news for both doctors and patients.
Second, lawmakers are seeking to extend the expiration of medical marijuana cards from one year to two years after the date of issue. While this would save cardholders a little money, it would replace a renewal visit with another follow-up visit.
Also, some lawmakers are working to clamp down on dispensary advertising rules as well as training requirements for medical marijuana doctors in the state. This proposal has raised the ire of not-for-profit organization Regulate Florida, the grassroots group currently working to legalize recreational marijuana in Florida.
The problems with HB 679
In an interview with the Florida Phoenix, Michael Minardi, campaign manager for Regulate Florida, asserted that HB 679 has its good and its bad points. For starters, Minardi feels that limiting advertising by medical marijuana doctors and dispensaries could severely curtail public awareness of the state’s medical marijuana program.
Another provision in the bill would set the legal age limit for the purchase of hemp-derived CBD products to 21. Opponents argue that the measure would merely drive sales out of state as anyone can buy CBD products online without the need for a medical marijuana card or age verification.
Furthermore, HB 679 would require hemp extract products to be registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The agency would be required to analyze a sample and inspect product labels to “ensure compliance with certain requirements” — presumably for the presence of less than 0.3% of THC and accurate labeling.
What’s in SB 776?
In addition to the House bill, State Sen. Jeff Brandes (Pinellas County), has introduced SB 776. This bill would tighten requirements for the licensing and operation of medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs) — aka medical marijuana dispensaries.
The bill would further complicate the licensing requirements by requiring dispensaries “to obtain cultivation licenses and processing licenses” and what’s called a “facility permit before cultivating or processing marijuana in the facility.”
The OMMU director attended a House hearing
Christopher Ferguson, director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) recently spoke at a public health-related committee at the state Capitol where he pointed out the 125 percent increase in MMJ card applications over the past year.
The OMMU is run by the Florida Department of Health. The agency is tasked with developing rules for medical marijuana as well as with maintaining the state’s Medical Marijuana Use Registry. OMMU is also responsible for licensing cannabis-related businesses.
“We’ve seen quite a few enhancements over the past few years,” Ferguson told lawmakers. “In addition to the marijuana in the form for smoking and edibles as a permissible use, as a route of administration, we have created a physician certification documentation dashboard,” he said.
According to Ferguson, the approval process for a medical marijuana card application took on average about 11 days in 2019. “With the implementation of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle data, we now can process in about six days,” he said.
Ferguson said that the agency is aiming for same-day approvals now that the Registry is connected to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ database.
“Once we release this new enhancement to the registry using the data, we will be able to same-day approve application cards, allowing patients to then go into the dispensary the same day to obtain their medication,” he said.
Also during the House hearing, Democratic, state Rep. Kristen Arrington (Osceola County), raised concerns about the speed of issuing replacements for lost medical marijuana cards.
Arrington said that she “had helped a constituent with the issue and I had to print out the application and then they had to fill it in and then mail it. And it took like a couple of weeks for them to get the replacement.”
Will Florida legalize recreational marijuana in 2022?
Meanwhile, Regulate Florida is pushing for the legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use in 2022. Proponents of the plan are taking a two-pronged approach. While advocates work to let the voters decide on the issue via a ballot question, Nick Hansen, Director of Government Affairs for MedMen, owners of several Florida dispensaries, has backed a measure to ensure marijuana control remains in the Legislature’s hands.
“There is an economic need for this. Folks understand that this is a tremendous economic driver in these states that have implemented it correctly and well. And it can really bolster those states’ coffers for things like education,” said Hansen. “The way you convince your colleagues is to sit down with them and say, guys, we can either deal with this at our level or the people of the state of Florida are going to deal with it via constitutional amendment.”
If the Florida legislature doesn’t legalize marijuana then a proposed 2022 ballot initiative would need the approval of at least 60 percent of Florida voters to be enacted.
Regulate Florida is gunning for at least 222,898 signatures needed to trigger a fiscal and judicial impact review. Ultimately, however, almost 900,000 signatures will be required to qualify for the 2022 ballot.
If the proposal is approved by voters, adults 21 years and older would be permitted to possess small amounts of cannabis for personal use. They would also be allowed to cultivate up to nine plants at home. At present though, the ballot initiative does not cover retail sales.
Not all cannabis advocates are in favor of allowing recreational marijuana dispensaries in Florida, however. Medical advocates fear that the high demand for recreational use products will cause shortages for patients. It’s a moot point considering that the proposal doesn’t create a recreational use market.
Many believe that Florida’s medical marijuana programs logical next step for growth is to offer RECIPROCITY for out of state medical cards. This, along with bolstering the tourist industry with qualified patients, in turn would allow Florida card carrying residents to shop in other medical states where reciprocity is allowed.