Seeing Through the Smoke of Florida’s Medical Marijuana Industry
As you may be aware, On November 8, 2016, Florida voters approved the use of Medical Marijuana in a constitutional ballot initiative called Amendment 2. This Amendment approved the use of Medical Marijuana in treatment for patients who suffer from specific debilitating medical conditions. These debilitating medical conditions include, but, are not limited to, cancer, AIDS, PTSD, glaucoma, Parkinson’s Disease, epilepsy, and Crohn’s disease. Physicians may also prescribe Medical Marijuana for “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class” as those mentioned above and “for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.” Those looking to do business in the medical marijuana industry must proceed with some caution because even with the passage of Amendment 2 marijuana is still considered a controlled substance consumption of which is illegal under federal law.
Who Can Prescribe Medical Marijuana
Believe it or not, medical marijuana is a Schedule I drug and is regulated by the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use. In order to prescribe Medical Marijuana to a patient a physician must be licensed to practice medicine in Florida and certified by the Department of Health (“DOH”). Further, the physician must complete an 8-hour course and exam offered by either the Florida Medical Association (“FMA”) or Florida Osteopathic Medical Association (“FMOA”). Additionally, if the physician is a medical director of a Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (“MMTC”) they are required to take a 2-hour course.
Restrictions on Use
Currently, Marijuana is only supposed to be used for the treatment of medical conditions and any recreational use is prohibited. Medical Marijuana may only be consumed in the form of food, tinctures, aerosols, oils, ointments, or related products. Notably missing is the permissibility to consume or use Medical Marijuana in a plant form that can be smoked.
Further, medical marijuana may only be prescribed to eligible patients as defined in Fla. Stat. §499.0295 as having a “terminal condition”. Patients will be classified as terminally ill only if two physicians designate them as such.
Additionally, Amendment 2 makes no accommodations for the use of medical marijuana at the workplace, public places, or school settings. Currently, federal and private program payors are not required to reimburse patients for medical marijuana treatment.
The DOH must register and regulate MMTCs that produce and distribute medical marijuana. Identification cards must be issued to patients and caregivers. In order to receive medical marijuana a patient must be: (1) a permanent Florida resident; (2) a patient of the ordering physician for at least three months; and (3) diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition.
Reaction to the Legalization of Medical Marijuana
The Trump Administration has stated that it intends to enforce federal law that prohibits the use of recreational marijuana, but they are unlikely to prohibit the legitimate use of medical marijuana for treatment purposes.
However, in some cities and counties throughout Florida, legislators and local officials are still trying to determine whether medical marijuana is even legal despite its overwhelming support by voters in Amendment 2. Throughout Florida, many cities are ill-prepared to regulate various aspects of the medical marijuana industry prior to the September deadline requiring its statewide availability. Even after the Trump Administration has made a public statement regarding medical marijuana officials are weary about implementing regulations because it is still federally prohibited. However, at least twenty-eight states have operated without significant intervention from the federal government after they have legalized either recreational or medical marijuana.
Many physicians welcome Amendment 2 and feel that it’s long overdue. Physicians are educating themselves on administering medical marijuana to their patients. For example, they are learning about the various strains of Cannabis and how certain illnesses may respond differently to a particularly strain and dosage. Many doctors prefer to prescribe medical marijuana rather than narcotics, which can be highly addictive to the patient. As a country, we are facing an opioid epidemic and by using medical marijuana as an alternative when appropriate may help to curb the addiction.
Medical Marijuana is Big Business
According to reports, there might be as many as 450,000 patients throughout Florida who may be eligible to receive medical marijuana treatment. That number is expected to rise as the types of illnesses that are treatable by marijuana becomes less narrow and not limited to debilitating medical conditions or terminal conditions. According to New Frontier’s projections, medical marijuana users in Florida will spend an estimated $200 million annually, and by 2020 Florida will account for 14% of the permissible marijuana use in the country.
There will likely be an expansion of dispensing organizations but it will not be easy. Currently, there are seven approved dispensing organizations in Florida. The following is a non-exhaustive list that the DOH considers when dispensing organizations apply:
- The technical and technological ability to cultivate, process, and dispense low-THC cannabis;
- The ability to secure the premises, resources, and personnel necessary to operate as a Dispensing Organization;
- The ability to maintain accountability of all raw materials, finished products, and any byproducts to prevent diversion or unlawful access to or possession of these substances;
- The financial ability to maintain operations for the duration of the 2-year approval cycle;
- Passing a background check; and
- Posting a performance bond.
Individuals seeking to enter the medical marijuana industry face several challenges due to federal laws that prohibit its manufacture, distribution, and use. Banks, insurance companies, and real estate brokers are hesitant to contract with medical marijuana companies due to the existing federal laws. Since it is illegal to operate a medical marijuana company on the federal level banks can’t or are unwilling to loan them money out of fear that there will be retribution for funding an illicit enterprise. This will only change if Congress passes a measure to legalize the medical marijuana industry.
Legislators must quickly determine the ongoing medical marijuana education requirements for physicians and how it will be regulated. Providers will increasingly enter into the business because the law effectively shields them from civil or criminal actions that arise from their prescribing of medical marijuana. However, physicians may face discipline for wrongfully prescribing low-THC marijuana or medical marijuana. Physicians must ensure that they receive the requisite informed consent prior to prescribing medical marijuana. It’s still uncertain if Amendment 2 will expand the number of dispensaries and by how many. Also, if you are a non-physician looking to enter into the medical marijuana business it is not clear what role one can legally play in the medical marijuana industry other than owning a dispensing organization.