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AUTHOR: Heather Allman
PUBLISHER:  CANNABIS LAW REPORT

Clearing the Air- Florida Condensed Cannabis 

For those of you in the dark about Florida’s Medical Marijuana Program, I will be lighting up the dim corners of Florida: The Nation’s Fastest-Growing Medical Marijuana Market, according to The Miami New Times on May 2, 2019.

CANNABIS PRIMER

  1. Glossary of Marijuana TerminologyviaCannaInsider.com
  2. Americans for Safe Access.org

Luckily for me, Florida passed constitutional Amendment 2 in November 2016 which allows Multiple Sclerosis, along with many other chronic and debilitating qualifying conditions as eligible for compassionate care, meaning diagnosed patients would be allowed by Florida to receive a medical marijuana recommendation from a qualified Florida physician and products from a licensed Florida dispensary; these dispensaries must strictly adhere to Florida’s seed-to-shelf vertical integration business model.

I am a legal Florida medical marijuana patient since January 2017, as well as a traveling medical cannabis writer, patient educator and vocal advocate. Since then, my quality of life has increased dramatically, both mentally and physically. Even my doctors and specialists are amazed at my progress!

As such, I am representative of the face of medical marijuana in Florida, one of 311,266 qualified active patients with ID cards as of February 7, 2020. Did I mention that we only have 2,607 of those “Florida qualified physicians” for ALL of us?

STATE OF FLORIDA

If Florida plans to increase its medical marijuana program through new legislative policies and marijuana dispensary standardized procedures, how exactly do we attempt to accomplish this?

In May 2019, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried announced that a newly-created and appointed Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee of 18 doctors, lawyers, patients, industry leaders, and advocates will be implemented in order to “advance and modernize policies” to move Florida into the future of medical marijuana

Florida plans to help close the existing gaps and get patients and the state across the existing, prohibitive Drug War bridges, with  Florida’s appointment of a 2019 inaugural group:

  • 18 Member Medical Marijuana Advisory who will collaborate with the Florida Department of Agriculture to help improve the state’s medical marijuana regulations and policies through membership by the following individuals and is part of the Cannabis Division at the Department of Agriculture:

[ 1. Kim Rivers; 2.Barry Gordon, MD; 3. David Kotler; 4. Dr. Michelle Weiner; 5. Zachary Kobrin; 6. Dan Russell; 7. Dr. David B. Corn; 8. Cameron Vance, Ph.D.; 9. Sally Kent Peebles; 10. Jacel Delgadillo; 11. Eric Stevens; 12. Mike Smuts; 13. Ron Watson; 14. Antoinette Duncan; 15. Peter Barsoom; 16. Paul Messer; 17. Karen Seeb Goldstein; 18. Elaine Geller ]

  • Florida’s Cannabis >Medical Marijuana Division in the Department of Agriculture. The Committee will convene telephonically and in-person bimonthly to develop ways and methods to expand patient access and affordability, increase innovation and technology within the cannabis industry, and to make recommendations to the Legislature and the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU)

Who will organize and oversee this committee, you ask?

Who will this committee make recommendations to other than the Florida State Legislature? Who else is listening intently?

Who will appoint, amend, manage and provide oversight to this Advisory Committee, the Director of Cannabis, and to the Office of Medical Marijuana Use? 

For interested parties currently residing outside the state of Florida, a comprehensive overview:

PHYSICIANS

On the Medical Marijuana/ Cannabis state lead:

What specific curriculum and medical material is taught in their Florida CME training and certification journey?

What medical marijuana delivery routes and associated products are accessible by Florida patients? 

The medical cannabis training these specialized CME physicians receive from the state is readily accessible for the public, including all Florida state medical cannabis certification physician qualifications and official answers:

  1. OMMU PHYSICIANS Certification Course
  2. OMMU PHYSICIANS Certification Course Textbook
  3. OMMU PHYSICIANS FAQ
  4. CANNAHEALTH PHYSICIANS CERTIFICATION 

Upon successful completion of the Florida physican CME training, a physician proceeds to immediately update this new medical specialization information with the Florida Division of Medical Quality Assurance

Patients in need of Florida’s rapidly advancing legal cannabis medication can then search the state’s CME physician database, call for information, and ultimately schedule an initial cannabis patient qualification appointment at a particular practice, or MMTC of their choice. 

During this required update timeframe, physicians often pause briefly to deliberate the choice: what are the implications of being an integral part of Florida’s burgeoning therapeutic cannabis medicine practice?

Membership in the widespread MMTC FL state system offers the most clinical practice hours, and a physician begins seeing possible medical marijuana patients immediately. 

Physicians can easily update their designated specialized certification at www.FLHealthSource.gov. Physicians can directly email questions to MQAOnlineService@flhealth.gov.

DISPENSARIES 

Dispensaries serve as The Crusaders who are literally growing medical marijuana in the state, while figuratively growing the state’s fledgling program simply through their participation.

What exactly has transpired concerning Florida state regulations as they directly pertain to local dispensaries, their employees, and dispensary ancillary agents? It all hinges solely on a vertical integration business model, which includes licensed cannabis businesses in Florida.

These state-licensed cannabis companies are called “dispensaries.” The Florida Department of Health regulates medical marijuana in Florida and is the agency that issues all required licenses. Visit the Florida Department of Health for further information.

Florida Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Info List

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Florida

These licensed dispensaries must be complete seed-to-sale companies who also provide healthcare to qualified medical cannabis patients by dispensing a patient’s desired product, in the desired delivery route.

These vital, end-line dispensary employees help fit desired cannabis medication products into a patient’s individual money framework.

That is, these licensed companies eventually dispense a patient’s doctor-issued recommendation by first planting and cultivating medical cannabis before processing and packaging it.

Simultaneously, Florida dispensaries must strive to train efficient, knowledgeable store employees, called “Wellness Coordinators” or “budtenders.”

These necessary individuals present the finished state-certified cannabis product on the dispensary’s shelves in an appealing manner. These end-line employees smartly and safely sell, or “dispense,” the cannabis product to the patient and consumer per the physician’s recommendation in the Registry.  

  • All of our state MMTC FL licensed clinics and dispensaries incorporate the lofty goals of both patient and product availability (access) and affordability (cost).

The Medics, or cannabis physicians, prescribe the patient’s recommendation for medical cannabis products that can be purchased by the patient (1) in various delivery routes (oral, inhalation, tinctures, oils, topicals, smokable), and (2) in various strains depending on the particular dispensary business.

The patient can fill their physician-recommended medical marijuana order at any, or all, of the Florida dispensaries listed below, using any desired personal combination of delivery routes and cannabis products. 

Patients are not limited to specific product choices or strains when given their medical marijuana order by the physician. Patients cannot be required to purchase from a specific dispensary.

Although their personal CME physician can make recommendations on product choices or dispensaries that would be best for the patients qualifying condition and associated symptoms, patients are not required to purchase specific cannabis products. 

Both the medical marijuana dispensary and cannabis products purchased are at the sole discretion of the individual patient.

  • Licensed Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers that are authorized to dispense medical marijuana products in a form for smoking or other delivery route to qualified patients include these fourteen companies called dispensaries:
  1. Trulieve
  2. Curaleaf
  3. Liberty Health Sciences
  4. VidaCann
  5. MüV ( formerlyAltMed)
  6. GrowHealthy
  7. Rise Dispensaries (GTI)
  8. One Plant (formerly 3 Boys)
  9. Surterra Wellness (Parallel)
  10. Fluent (formerly Knox Medical)
  11. Harvest
  12. MedMen
  13. The Botanist
  14. Columbia Care Florida

What’s the actual story behind Florida’s current vertical integration model, recently ruled “unconstitutional”?

  • There are fourteen current licensed participants as noted above, which begs the question of how can Florida’s vertical integration model requirement for state licensure be so problematic? Let’s highlight the Florida Medical Marijuana timeline between 2016 and 2019, leading up to the future case hearing and ultimate decision, and attempt to decipher what all this fuss is about.  

Way back in the beginning in 2016, Florida had only six dispensing businesses licensed by the state’s Department of Health to grow, process, and distribute marijuana rather than the currently existing fourteen dispensary businesses.

Trulieve was the first dispensary to be issued a license by the state as noted in this July 20, 2016 article: Florida’s First Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ready To Hit Market. Trulieve is my favorite dispensary, hanfs down. They have a wide variety of quality cannabis at fair prices, knowledgeable employees, mellow environment, and treat patients in a respectful and professional manner.

In addition, ModernCanna Labs MMTC Application Process offers step-by-step one pagers, along with several vital guides for use in Florida:

  1. What does it mean to be a vertically-integrated Florida dispensary of medical cannabis products?
  2. How can a Florida dispensary license be obtained?
  3. How To Prepare for the Process of Obtaining a Florida MMTC License
  4. Know the Current Laws and Regulations in Florida courtesy of the Marijuana Policy Project
  5. Dispensary Permits: Open a Dispensary in Florida
  6. Dispensary Permits – Florida Medical Marijuana Licenses
  7. Foley LLP – Medical Marijuana Licensure, June 22, 2017 Update

Whether or not these common goals of access and affordability are always achievable for MMTC physician clinics and their dispensary counterparts remains undecided; but cannabis is quite the budding industry here in Florida. 

PATIENTS 

Now that we know who these state medical marijuana physicians are, let’s examine the patients being treated.

What exactly are the qualifications to become a Florida medical marijuana patient? On the popular MarijuanaDoctors.com, all qualifying conditions in Florida are noted.

  • Dedicated availability through the official OMMU patient/physician site, and the Florida MMTC maintains an accurate, updated list of eligible qualifying conditions at all times. 

Listed for quick reference, patients in Florida diagnosed with one of the following Top 10 qualifying “debilitating medical conditions” have legal protection under Amendment 2, overwhelmingly passed in 2016:

  • AIDS (Positive Status)
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV (Positive Status)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • –Terminal Condition that is diagnosed by a physician other than the qualified physician issuing the physician certification
  • –Chronic Pain (Nonmalignant) 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
  • –Medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those above.

Florida’s medical marijuana program has evolved leaps and bounds beyond the confines of the state’s original, yet restrictive, 2016 “Compassionate Use” law.

While the words seem to be clear enough on paper in the 2016 Florida State Law, the interpretation and implementation of this law is the inseparable key to the proverbial Pandora’s lock. Indeed, the lock on the state’s cannabis safe is nearly unbreakable. Why? Because this invaluable safe contains Florida’s medical marijuana legal framework.  

  • Concerning the current state program’s legal details, Marijuana Doctors correctly advises that Florida’s cannabis patients must be at least 18 years of age and a Florida Resident, or a seasonal resident with a valid Florida driver’s license or Florida identification card. 

Patients must obtain legitimate medical records or documentation from a primary care physician describing their diagnosis, and subsequently bring these records to a marijuana evaluation appointment with a CME licensed physician. Seen different doctors for a qualifying condition? No problem! Here’s how to easily request your medical records.

The qualifying patient must be diagnosed through a full in-person physical examination and assessment of medical history before receiving a recommendation by your selected certified physician for having one of the debilitating medical condition diagnoses listed above.

All patients must be entered into the Florida Medical Marijuana Use Registry by the physician who evaluated them.

Patients (and Caregivers) must also apply for their Registry Identification Card (Medical Marijuana Card) only if they need to purchase or carry a patient’s medical marijuana products on their person.

Need help? A designated caregiver can be added to your patient profile after proper documentation is submitted to the state. But an OMMU Registry ID card is not required in order to simply accompany a patient to purchase cannabis products inside a physical dispensary location

In such a case,the patient’s caregiver or other accompanying adult needs only to have a valid Florida identification card or driver’s license to temporarily relinquish to dispensary staff for the duration of the patient’s visit. Patients and caregivers can submit an application online or by mail.

Once the application has been approved, a temporary Identification Card will be emailed to the patient immediately. Qualified Florida patients will then be mailed a physical Identification card required by law to be kept on their person at all times.

Patients can then fill their order at a licensed Medical Marijuana Treatment Center of Florida dispensary location using their ID card as required identification for purchase of various cannabis products.

Patients have to be re-certified every 30 weeks in order to receive a new medical marijuana recommendation. To maintain a valid Medical Marijuana Registry Identification Card, Patients & Caregivers must renew their Identification Card annually. 

Renewals must be submitted at least forty-five (45) days prior to the present card expiration date; a complete renewal application, $75 and required documentation must be submitted to the state.

The Florida Department of Health, Office of Medical Marijuana Use can be accessed manually at 1-800-808-9580, online at Florida Department of Health’s Office Of Medical Marijuana Use, or email at medicalmarijuanause@flhealth.gov.

RESOURCES

Even with recent dual drives for Florida adult recreational use and the impending court decision on the constitutionality of our Florida vertical integration cannabis program model, Medical Marijuana remains in the foreground and legal users now have representation, lobbyists and passionate advocates infiltrated throughout local, state and national government.  

Most locales throughout Florida have embraced this full-spectrum cannabis economy, along with the accompanying exceptional physician minds introduced to each state region with marijuana expansion, especially considering these vital facts:

  1. Cannabis in Florida: A Year In Review and Forecast for 2020
  2. How Much Cannabis Each State Sold in First Month of Legal Sales
  3. 700 Medical Cannabis Studies Sorted By Disease
  4. Marijuana Statistics 2019, Usage, Trends and Data)

And finally, according to Marijuana Momentum, January saw another major marijuana score with Federal Marijuana Reform Getting Another Congressional Hearing.

The current cherry on top of our messy U.S. cannabis sundae? According to this Ocala Star Banner Editorial, the overall message has shifted on medical marijuana. Let’s keep our fingers crossed