The Trials And Tribulations Of Obtaining A Medical Card In Florida

Florida is gradually making the transition into medical cannabis for patients who can benefit. Their first medical marijuana law, passed in 2014, allowed only limited patients to use high-CBD and low-THC (0.8% or less). The first dispensary for this type of cannabis opened in July of 2016.

The legislature then passed HB 307 in 2016, which would allow terminally ill patients to use cannabis with higher THC. But that law was flawed, placing a heavy burden on physicians, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, and never got off the ground.

Then in June 2017, the Florida legislature passed SB 8-A, Medical Use of Marijuana; Providing an exemption from the state tax on sales, use, and other transactions for marijuana and marijuana delivery devices used for medical purposes; providing qualifying medical conditions for a patient to be eligible to receive marijuana or a marijuana delivery device; providing for establishment of medical marijuana testing laboratories; establishing the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, Inc., etc. They appropriated $15,143,440 to implement the program.

In May 2017, Jacquie, who had moved to Florida from Oregon in 2016, finally got her medical marijuana card after months of waiting and missteps. Needless to say, getting a card and cannabis in Florida is much different than in Oregon—where she had been a patient for many years.

Last year Jacquie saw an ad on Facebook that said medical marijuana was legal in Florida and to give contact information to get a card. Jacquie went to the linked site. She answered a number of questions and provided some information. On a return call, she had a phone interview with a woman, and was told that she was qualified. They then sent voluminous documents, which she completed and mailed back, along with a check for $200. Among the documents was the standard release of medical information. She then had a 45-day wait.
Jacquie was contacted about a scheduled doctor appointment in a city outside of Orlando (about 40 minutes away from her home). She saw a woman doctor, who did not perform a physical exam (as required in Oregon), but did ask questions about Jacquie’s medical history and pain—taking approximately 5 minutes. No paperwork was exchanged at this time, but her photograph was taken. The doctor informed Jacquie that she qualified.

Sometime later, Jacquie received notification from the state of Florida that she needed to register with them. She obtained the paperwork, completed it and sent it with $75 to the state. She eventually got a plastic photo ID card in the mail in May 2017.

The next step was figuring out how to actually obtain the medical marijuana. She eventually found a dispensary in Tampa. She also discovered online that a new dispensary was opening in a city an hour and a half away (where a friend lived).

She took a trip to her friend’s house and visited the new dispensary, finding only one other customer when she went into the store. The other customer was older and had no clue about an appropriate dosage for her condition. The knowledge of staff also appeared to be lacking, so the woman was struggling with what to purchase. Jacquie heard them telling her to use a sativa in the morning, a hybrid during the day and indica at night for sleep—requiring quite a financial outlay just to get started—at $120 for the smallest vape pen.

When it was her turn, Jacquie showed her card and was told she was eligible but only for vape pens, tincture, topicals, or pills. (Through some glitch in the latest law, smokeable cannabis is not legally allowed. This is being challenged in the courts.)

Jacquie found that besides a limited number of dispensaries, the cannabis there costs at least twice what it does in Oregon—so it is unaffordable to many. In a pleasant surprise, she “was impressed with the quality, though, having used oils in Oregon.”

The limited dispensary situation is being addressed as Florida adds more as the need grows. In addition, dispensaries currently will deliver medicine at no cost—sometimes great distances. (This is something that Oregon has taken years to implement, and there is a delivery charge.) Jacquie now has her medical cannabis products delivered every 90 days.

Florida has a long way to go to catch up to the West Coast in terms of making cannabis available to patients. But it’s good to see some progress occurring in the South—which has been slow to accept that it is inevitable.

Cheryl K. Smith is a freelance writer and copyeditor for Cannabiz Journal, managing editor for Midwifery Today, and a long-time cannabis activist in Oregon.