Medical Marijuana in Florida - 2019
About The Florida Medical Marijuana Program
In the elections of November, 2016, a constitutional amendment was passed in Florida to permit the use of medical marijuana by patients suffering from a list of serious medical conditions. The bill passed by a landslide with 71 percent of voters in favor. Amendment 2 superseded a previous law which allowed the use of low-THC cannabis extracts to treat a short list of potentially life-threatening conditions. Since then, in 2019 over 150,000 patients have received their Florida medical marijuana cards, over 2000 doctors in Florida are certified to recommend, and new cannabis dispensaries have been popping up monthly.
The list of “debilitating conditions” treated by medical marijuana in Florida was broadened to include cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, or any other which a physician believes constitutes a “debilitating medical condition of the same kind or class as or comparable to those above” for which the medical use of marijuana would outweigh the potential health risks.Let’s take a more detailed look at the history of Florida cannabis laws and the requirements for taking part in the program
Florida Marijuana Laws - The History
Several attempts were made to legalize medical marijuana between 1978 and 2014 with no success. Then, in 2014, Florida legislators passed the “Charlotte’s Web” bill, a measure which allowed the use of low-THC, high-CBD extracts for the purpose of treating a short list of serious conditions such as intractable epilepsy. Lawmakers expanded the program in 2016 to permit terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana, with no restrictions on THC levels. The first dispensary of low-THC cannabis didn’t open until July of 2016.
That same year, advocates were able to get the “Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014” onto the November 2014 ballot. The bill fell just 2.5% short of the 60% of yes votes needed to pass the constitutional amendment.
The next year, in 2015, a number of municipalities including Miami-Dade County, Tampa, Key West, and Orlando began allowing officers to cite adults found in possession of marijuana rather than arrest them.
Things began to change in 2016 when Amendment 2 passed with a popular vote of 71%. The legislation established a full-blown medical marijuana program. Then, in special session, the senate passed bill SB8A which created strict regulations that applied to Amendment 2, such as making it illegal to purchase dried flower and to grow cannabis at home.
In 2017, the Florida Legislature passed a law to prevent patients from using smokable marijuana. That same year, two bills were introduced to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. However, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee “temporarily postponed” review of the bills.
Recently, in the spring of 2018, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers heard a case brought by People United for Medical Marijuana and Florida for Care on behalf of two medical patients which challenged the legislature’s attempt to restrict patients’ options and prohibit the use of dried cannabis flower. Judge Grievers ruled that patients “have the right to use the [smokable] form of medical marijuana for treatment of their debilitating medical conditions as recommended by their certified physicians.” The Department of Health has since appealed the decision. Judge Gievers ruled that, under the state’s constitution, patients have the right to smoke medical marijuana in private.
Florida Recreational Weed Laws And Penalties
Amendment 2 did not change Florida’s drug possession laws. The possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of 1 year imprisonment and a maximum fine of $1,000. Possession of more than 20 grams of is a felony punishable by a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Sale or delivery of marijuana is a felony. If perpetrated within 1,000 feet of a school, college, park, or other specified area it is punishable by a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000.
However, as mentioned above, some Florida municipalities have opted to essentially decriminalize personal use of marijuana. Orlando, for example, allows police officers to write citations rather than arresting offenders. For the possession of 20 grams of cannabis or less, an officer can choose to write a citation with a $100 fine for first-time offenders, or $200 for a second offense. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $500 and have to appear in court.
In certain jurisdictions, payment of the citation constitutes admission of guilt and can still result in a criminal record.
When is recreational marijuana likely to become legal in Florida? Some experts and advocates are predicting that a recreational marijuana referendum will appear on the state ballot in 2022.
Steps To Get a Medical Marijuana Card in Florida
Wondering how to get a medical marijuana card in Florida? Fortunately, it’s not extremely difficult. The hardest part is getting a doctor to determine that you’re eligible for the program. (And, frankly, that’s not all that hard either.)
To get certified for medical marijuana in Florida, fill out the Patient Registration Form or call 727.361.0577. Residents must obtain medical records from their primary care physician which show that they qualify for the program, and make an appointment with a doctor that is certified by the state for the dispensing of medical marijuana cards.
Certified physicians usually charge anywhere from $200-$300 for an examination.
In order to qualify, a patient must not only have one of the approved conditions, but show that they have tried other treatments that haven’t worked.
All patients are required to register with the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Once a certified physician approves you, your application is sent to the Florida Department of Health along with a check for $75. The state then sends the patient a medical cannabis card which must be presented in order to purchase medical cannabis products. This process can take up to a month to complete.
The card is good for 1 year, however every 30 weeks, you need to be re-examined by a certified physician in order to be renewed.
Some Backround Information About Medical Marijuana In Florida
Before we begin, let us say that reporting on cannabis laws is a tough job at the moment. Not because it’s controversial, but because by the time you finish writing an article about cannabis policy, things have changed. This is certainly the case when writing about the Florida medical marijuana program. In fact, the program has been in a state of flux since it was first instituted back in 2015. And it doesn’t look like the rate of change will change any time soon.
Here’s a little background for you.
Between 1978 and 2014 several attempts were made to legalize medical marijuana in the state of Florida with no success. Then, in 2014, Florida legislators passed the “Charlotte’s Web” bill. The measure allowed the use of low-THC, high-CBD extracts for the purpose of treating a short list of serious conditions such as intractable epilepsy.
Amendment 2 went into effect in Florida back in January 2017. At the time of writing, early Feb. 2019, incoming governor Governor DeSantis has all but ordered the legislature to enact the will of the people and overturn a ban on smokable forms of marijuana put in place by conservatives. They claimed that the amendment that the voters approved didn’t specifically mention smoking as a form of consumption.
Furthermore, cannabis advocates in Florida are not done yet. New petitions are circulating in the state. One of them is an attempt to allow medical patients to grow their own marijuana, another to legalize recreational use by adults. And others are expected to follow before the 2020 elections come around.
What are the Prerequisites for Getting a Medical Marijuana Card in Florida?
Okay, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of getting your Florida medical marijuana card.
Not anyone can just waltz into any doctors office and get hooked up. A few planets need to align, so to speak.
First of all, as you might imagine, you must be a resident of the state in order to get a Florida medical marijuana card. The usual suspects will get you past that hurdle, such as a Florida driver’s license or state-issued I.D. A passport would also work.
If you can’t prove you’re a resident of the state, you’re just dead in the water before you get out of the harbor. If you can prove you’re a resident, then the next hurdle is to qualify for the state’s medical marijuana program. In order to qualify, you need to be suffering from one of a list of medical conditions. Let’s look at that.
What are the Qualifying Conditions for Getting a Medical Marijuana Card in Florida?
When Florida first enacted a very limited medical marijuana program back in 2014, the only qualifying medical conditions wer severe epilepsy or a terminal illness. And patients had to have tried traditional treatments to ease their suffering before they could be considered eligible for the program.
After numerous attempts to expand the program since it’s introduction voters approved an initiative in 2016 which amended the state’s constitution to not only expand the medical qualifications of the program but also to create a state-regulated medical marijuana market including a system of vertically integrated cannabis companies which are licensed to both produce and sell cannabis products (except smokable buds and resins).
Here’s the latest of qualifying conditions:
- Crohn’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- A terminal condition diagnosed by a physician other than the qualified physician issuing the physician certification
- Medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those above
- Chronic nonmalignant pain caused by a qualifying medical condition or that originates from a qualifying medical condition and persists beyond the usual course of that qualifying medical condition
In addition to these qualifying conditions, doctors may approve a similar illness for which they deem medical marijuana will be effective. This essentially takes the decision of who gets to use medical marijuana out of the hands of Florida lawmakers and puts in the hands of doctors, where it belongs.
If you’ve got your proof of residence and you believe you have one of the listed conditions and thereby qualify for the program, you’re ready to make some moves.
Additional Medical Conditions That Have Qualified Patients include:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Back Pain
- Cyclical Vomiting
- Hepatitis C
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (with chronic abdominal pain)
- Lyme Disease
- Muscle Spasms
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Severe & Chronic Pain
- Severe Nausea
- Sickle Cell Anemia
- Wasting Syndrome
At this time, until the smoking issue is worked out, patients are allowed to purchase and use only oils (vape or oral drops), tinctures, capsules, patches, and topicals. Home delivery is also available. Unless they have $50 million and a cultivation license, patients cannot grow their own medical marijuana.
Steps to Getting a Medical Marijuana Card in Florida
In order to get a medical marijuana card in Florida, you’ll need to jump through a few hoops, but thousands have gone through the process unscathed.
First, you’ll need to gather your medical records. Then you’ll need to make an appointment with a state-certified doctor. And then you wait.
Step 1 — Get Your Medical Records From Your Current Doctor
If your current doctor is also a state-certified medical marijuana doctor then you can just skip this step. If that’s not the case, then you have to get your medical records from your current doctor.
Requesting your medical records can be a little daunting if you’ve never attempted this before, but it’s not that complicated. Of course, you’re going to need to fill out a form. If your doctor doesn’t have a standard form, you can simply put your request in writing. You’ll need to give them your name, SSN, date of birth, address and phone, email, a list of the records that you’re requesting, and the approximate dates of service. You’ll also need to tell them how you want them delivered — via mail, email, in person, etc. Make a copy of your request before you submit it so you have it for your records. Once your request has been submitted it may take some time to get your records. Ask how long it will take and follow up.
If, after repeated attempts, your health care provider fails to deliver your medical records your next course of action is to contact the Department of Health and file a complaint. Just as an FYI, your medical records cannot be withheld for non-payment for services rendered.
What if your doctor is no longer in practice? By law, all medical records must be maintained one way or another. If your doctor has left a practice that is still operating, your records must be maintained by that practice. If the practice closes altogether, then the medical records are typically transferred to another health care provider, in which case you should be notified.
Keep in mind that there may be some expense involved in getting your medical records, but it’s generally not unreasonable.
What if you don’t have a doctor or any medical records? If this is the case, simply contact a state-certified doctor and tell them your situation. Tell them what condition you’re dealing with and make an appointment to discuss it.
Step 2 - Make an Appointment With a State-Certified Medical Marijuana Doctor
For most people who are thinking of climbing on board a medical marijuana program for the first time, talking to a doctor about it seems to be the part that causes the most apprehension. Keep in mind that, by now, most Florida-certified doctors in the state have had to deal with plenty of patients who are considering using marijuana extracts to treat their symptoms. Although it may be your first rodeo, it’s almost certainly not theirs.
Just so you know, in order to be certified by the state, the doctor must attend a series of classes in the use of marijuana and cannabis oils as medicine.
Once you decide upon a doctor with whom you’d like to make an appointment, the next step is simple. Call them and tell them you want to make an appointment.
Most likely you won’t be able to stroll in the same day or even the same week. In fact, the next available appointment could be weeks away. You’ll have to be patient (no pun intended).
Step 3 — Talk To The Doc
It should go without saying that you should arrive at your appointment on time and make sure you have your medical records and I.D. If all goes well, the doctor will see you shortly.
The doc will ask you a series of questions about your ailment including your diagnosis, what symptoms you’re experiencing, which treatments you’ve tried in the past, what you’re doing currently to treat your condition, and anything else they deem relevant.
If you’ve been seeing a doctor specifically for one of the ailments on the list of qualifying medical conditions, you’ve got a leg up. The next leg up requires a little more than just having one of the conditions. Technically, your doctor isn’t supposed to approve you for a medical marijuana card unless you’ve tried traditional treatments and they have failed to produce results.
Having said that, many doctors are sympathetic to the fact that cannabis might be a much safer and effective treatment for your condition than traditional pharmaceuticals and have mercy on you.
If the doctor determines that you are, indeed, eligible for the Florida medical marijuana program they’ll enter your info into the Florida Marijuana Use Registry (aka the Compassionate Care Registry) which is run by the Florida Department of Health.
Your doctor will determine an optimal THC dosage which in turn sets a limit to how much product you are allowed to buy each month. A doctor may also limit your meds to low-THC products if he or she thinks there might be safety issues with the use of high-THC products.
Physicians’ fees may vary, but you’re looking at around $150, give or take to get an examination.
Step 4 — Complete Your Application Online
Once you’ve gotten the all clear from the doc, and you’ve been added to the Compassionate Care Registry you’ll still need to complete the process online before you receive a card by mail.
You’ll also be required to remit a $75 application fee.
It can take some time for the DOH to review your application and issue an MMJ card. Patients have reported waiting periods of up to two months.
You don’t actually need the card to purchase medical marijuana, but it’s a good idea to carry it with you at all times in case there’s a run-in with the law. You will, however, need your state I.D. or passport to even get your foot in the door.
Where To Buy Medical Marijuana Near You
Once all of the above is taken care of you’ll be able to purchase cannabis products — again, smokeables excluded — from any state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary.
There are scores of licensed dispensaries across the state. And if there’s none in your neighborhood you may be able to have your medicine delivered to your door.
Florida medical marijuana patients can purchase medicine from registered marijuana dispensaries officially known as Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs).
Dispensary locations are popping up like weeds, or roses, throughout the state. The total number of dispensaries allowed in Florida exceeds 400 under the state law. Florida Dispensary Prices vary, although many dispensaries will deliver medicine to authorized patients across the state.
Medical cannabis products generally cost between $35 and $115. The average purchase is between $150 and $250.
Because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, banks are reluctant to do business with dispensaries, therefore sales are generally cash-only. Credit cards are usually not accepted. However, many dispensaries accept CanPay, which is a prepaid debit style card.
Do I Really Need a Florida Medical Marijuana Card?
Some of you might have a “friend in the business,” shall we say, and have access to black market pot and you’re wondering if you really need a medical marijuana card at all.
First of all, keep in mind that even if you do have a medical marijuana card, you’re not allowed to possess dried flower, and you’re not allowed to smoke resin. If you do so and you’re caught you’ll be charged under the state’s illicit drug possession laws. And Florida has some pretty scary drug laws.
If you’re charged with possession of up to 20 grams you risk spending up a year in jail and a fine up to $1,000. If you’re caught with more than 20 grams, you’re looking at a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up $5,000.
However, some Florida municipalities have opted to decriminalize the personal use of marijuana. Orlando, for example, allows police officers to write citations rather than arresting offenders. For the possession of up to 20 grams, an officer can choose to write a citation. It comes with a $100 fine for first-time offenders and $200 for a second offense. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $500 and will have to appear before the court. In some cities, payment of the citation constitutes an admission of guilt and can still result in a criminal record.
Miami-Dade County, Tampa, Key West, and Orlando have decriminalized personal recreational use. Most other municipalities in Florida still consider possession of marijuana an arrestable — and jailable — offense.
Some experts and advocates are predicting that a recreational marijuana referendum will appear on the state ballot in 2020 and that all Florida residents age 21 or older will legally be allowed to use marijuana for “recreational” (non-medical) purposes by 2022. Of course, quantities are limited.
How Do I Renew My Florida Medical Marijuana Card?
In order to remain in good standing, you’ll need to schedule periodic follow-up appointments with your doctor. You’re required to have at least one annual visit in order to renew your card. In some cases, at the doctor’s discretion, follow-up visits can be done over the phone. Assuming the doc says you’re good to go, you’ll need to fill out a renewal application and pay another application fee.
Be sure to take care of this process at least 45 days prior to the date of expiration and you’re good to go.