Mandatory Waiting Periods for Terminal Patients

When the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Use Act was signed into law in 2014, one of the primary motivators for it was an increasingly apparent need for cannabis treatment among those with terminal cancer and similar conditions that have a short life expectancy. In fact, the only group allowed to access medical marijuana containing THC under that initial law were patients who had been diagnosed as having one year or less to live.

Late-stage cancer is a battle to simply get up and move through your life each day. Many patients suffer from debilitating pain, continual nausea and vomiting, and a severe lack of appetite that can lead to malnutrition. Medical cannabis has shown time and time again to be effective for all of these conditions.

State lawmakers were both wise and compassionate enough to acknowledge that medical cannabis is often the only viable answer for people with terminal conditions to maintain an acceptable quality of life. One glaring loophole was left in the legislation, however; patients have to establish a relationship with a doctor who is certified to prescribe(recommend) medical cannabis, and that specific doctor is required to treat the patient with other methods for at least 90 days before they can allow patients to get their medicine. For those suffering from such a condition, this is a brutal marathon stretch to have to run. It may also represent a significant chunk of what remains of their life. One prescribing physician has reported that they have already seen five of their patients pass away while in the midst of their mandatory 90 day waiting period.

The 2017 Gap

Amendment 2 did address this issue, but for terminal patients who are suffering right now during a mandatory 90 day waiting period, its new terms won't bring any relief.

Under Amendment 2, patients no longer need a 90 day relationship with their dispensing physician. The problem is, Amendment 2 also did not take effect immediately. The state Department of Health was given until June 3 of 2017 to hash out the remaining legal particulars of the program, and until September 3 to begin issuing the identification cards necessary to purchase medicine from dispensaries. Until that is completed, patients who would be eligible under the Amendment 2 terms are stuck in limbo. There is likely to be little to no progress on Amendment 2 until the Florida 2017 legislative session starts, which isn't until March 7.

Sadly, there is currently no exception to the 90 day rule. Advocates from the medical industry have raised the issue with the state legislature, pointing out that forcing a terminal patient to wait 90 days cannot really be considered to be "compassionate" care. Again, this is an issue that cannot be taken up until the legislature is back in session, however, which is a wait of nearly two months before any discussion can even begin.

Limited Options For Terminal Patients

It's painful to say, but the hard truth is that as we post this, there are simply no options for patients in Florida to immediately access the medicine they need.

One of the few options for patients in the state is obtaining their medicine on the black market. That, of course, is fraught with both legal peril and personal safety issues. In addition, when you buy from street dealers, you cannot ever really be certain of what you are purchasing. Does the marijuana have the right profile of cannabinoids to treat your condition? Is it cut with dangerous toxins or other drugs, or does it have dangerous mold growing on it that cannot be detected by the naked eye? Unless a patient can have someone they know and trust purchase on their behalf from a legitimate dispensary in another state, they can't even be sure they are getting proper medicine, and the person who is transporting the marijuana would be in violation of federal drug smuggling laws by crossing state borders. Obviously, this is not an acceptable answer for patients.

Though it's still not a good option, the most reasonable possible alternative for Florida patients who are desperately in need is to look into temporarily relocating to a more cannabis-friendly state while they are waiting out their 90 day "treatment" period. The simplest options at present would be Colorado, Washington or Oregon, since their legalized recreational programs are already up and running. California, Nevada, Alaska and Washington D.C. have also formally legalized for recreational use, although their programs are still in various states of readiness as of this writing. Some, such as Nevada, may not be functional until Amendment 2 is already in effect in Florida (and while Nevada accepts out-of-state MMJ cards from most states for medical use, Florida is one of the few states they DON'T have a reciprocity agreement with). Of these options, California is the most appealing, as they have a long-established medical system that is very easy to be quickly approved for. One only really needs to show up with their medical records and obtain a California ID from any branch of the DMV there, then see one of the many prescribing physicians found throughout the state and pay the initial fee of about $75-100, and they could potentially have access to medical marijuana at existing dispensaries within days.

This, of course, is a desperation option and one that is not at all fair to terminal patients in Florida. The state's legal quagmire stands no chance of being resolved for at least several months, however, and until it is terminal patients are simply stuck with no other choice but to wait and hope for the best.