The passage of Senate Bill 1030 “The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014” this week made Florida the 23rd state in the nation to have a form of medical marijuana legalized. While the Act does not take effect until January 2015, questions from the public are already running rampant. Many are wondering how they can become a registered patient to use the drug for their medical conditions. Before making any assumptions, it is important to understand what the law means for Florida’s potential patients.

charlottes web cartoon

“First and foremost people need to understand that even when the law goes into effect in January, marijuana is still considered illegal according to federal law,” says David Shiner, of Boca Raton-based Shiner Law Group. “You can’t just go to your medicine cabinet, grab a joint, and just go on your porch and light up thinking you won’t get arrested.”

SB 1030 “The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014” approves the use of non-euphoric strains of marijuana (such as “Charlotte’s Web” and other low THC/high CBD strains) for exclusive use by patients suffering from epilepsy and other debilitating diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s and cancer. Charlotte’s Web itself is a sativa marijuana strain processed into an extract that is high in cannabidiol (CBD) content, and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces a high.  The drug can be accessed in oil form, or by vaporization, but not through smoking.

Additionally, only patients with conditions “which chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms” are eligible, and only “if no other satisfactory alternative treatment options exist for that patient,” and further, only after “the physician has tried alternate treatment options that have not alleviated the patient’s symptoms” (FL-SB1030).

Ballot Initiative #2 – Broader Terms Lead to Public Outcry

vote no on 2Ballot Initiative #2, which is up for public vote on the November 4 ballot, would broaden the use of medical marijuana for other patients with different medical conditions, which is a concern for many opposing the initiative.

What Florida is voting on in November “is not a bill that we can look to change or tighten up later on. This is a constitutional amendment and the issue is, it is very loose,” said Jessica Spencer, statewide coalition director for Vote No on 2 during a recent debate. “So as soon as you start to put restriction on it, you’ve now violated the constitution.” One of the chief concerns of Vote No on 2 is that the broader description of who is eligible for medical marijuana usage could lead to criminal trafficking (the “Pill Mill Loophole”).

Florida – The Highest Regulated State for Medical Marijuana?

The terms of the Initiative are certainly less restrictive than SB 1030, but would that necessarily lead to abuse with the administration of, or use of, the drug? Some involved in the medical marijuana industry emphatically disagree.

“I think it is safe to say that Florida could become one of the highest regulated states with medical marijuana laws,” says BioTrackTHC Chief Operating Officer Patrick Vo. The Fort Lauderdale-based BioTrackTHC is the nation’s oldest and most established marijuana business that tracks cannabis inventory from seed to sale. “If it isn’t the state it will be the Federal government coming down on you if you do not follow every step required for compliance.”

Strict Guidelines Should Protect Against “Pill Mill Loophole”

“The State Office of Economic Development and Research looked at the so-called ‘Pill Mill Loophole’ and found it highly unlikely due to the strict guidelines for actually becoming a medical marijuana user,” says Ben Pollara with pro-Ballot Initiative #2’s United for Care. “The argument presupposes the public servants at the Department of Health will just abdicate responsibility and implement this in a really poor manner.”

Where Can A Qualifying FL Patient Buy Medical Cannabis?

Under the approved SB 1030, there will be five dispensaries throughout the state, which requires a $5 million bond from the operators, as well as extensive requirements for security and inventory managements to avoid potential criminal activities. With these measures in place, the matters of who can distribute and who can receive the medical marijuana are the largest points of debate with regards to the expanded, Ballot Initiative #2.

The Amendment states that “The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers.” This addresses the regulatory aspects of the drug, but what about who can receive the medicinal marijuana under Ballot Initiative #2?

Are There Loopholes In The High CBD Law?

“I would like to see this voted down, and come back later to it after closing up the very obvious loopholes that are there right now,” states Spencer.

“The whole ‘Pot for Any Purpose Loophole’ issue is blatantly untrue,” says Pollara. “The Supreme Court, and they are called Supreme for a reason, has said clearly that this is only for debilitating diseases and medical conditions.” While Pollara and many others feel the state will continue the same, stringent regulation it uses for other pharmaceutical drugs, the wording of the Ballot Initiative #2, unlike SB 1030’s narrowly defined allowances, is still too broad for others.

Regardless of the outcome in November’s election, the passage of SB 1030 still comes with plenty of oversight – of the Federal kind.  Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.