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Florida’s Long Wait For MMJ Has Just Begun

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Florida’s Long Wait For MMJ Has Just Begun

Medical marijuana is now enshrined in Florida’s state constitution. But for now – and for as long as another year – that’s about all the legal cannabis you’ll be able to find in the state of Florida. And that will have to wait until January.

Yes, voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2, saying yes to medical cannabis by a margin of 71 percent to 29 percent, one of the most lopsided victories for marijuana at the ballot box ever.

But the constitutional amendment doesn’t change anything until Jan. 3, 2017, when the constitution is actually amended. After that, it will be many months after that before anyone can actually access any cannabis – and the list of people who will be able to receive a recommendation from a doctor and then go to a “medical marijuana treatment center” is short and very un-sweet.

(For that, Floridians have California to thank and/or blame. The easy access to weed in medical marijuana’s birthplace is used as a cautionary tale in other states, and an excuse to make access to the drug difficult.)

As for when and where and how those centers – where cannabis will be grown as well as sold – can operate? That’s all unknown.

“The state will need to come up with rules. And then implementation,” said attorney John Morgan, one of the main organizers at United For Care, the group behind the Amendment 2 campaign. Meaning: Florida is literally building a medical marijuana system from scratch and every most fundamental question, including the mere definition of what constitutes “scratch,” remains to be seen.

The state has until June 3, 2017 to finalize rules, and patients are supposed to be able to receive recommendations from their doctors no later than Sept. 3, 2017. If the state lags behind and blows either deadline, Amendment 2 says patients are able to seek “judicial relief” from the courts.

Marijuana is supposed to be provided by a “caregiver,” who must be 21 or over and cannot consume any of the cannabis produced for the patients under his or her care. The medical marijuana “centers,” or what we may call dispensaries, are supposed to be staffed by caregivers.

Will dispensaries be in every county? Will they be near schools? Open 24 hours? Probably not, but nobody can be sure until those state rules are written. Also left unsaid is if patients can grow their own cannabis in a home – forget how many plants may be available. Also left unknown is how and where cannabis will be grown – and who will be eligible to grow it. Will licenses be limited? Ditto, but expect details like these to be the source of serious conflict between state officials and marijuana-seekers.

The ailments that qualify a patient for a recommendation are cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, “or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated” – suggesting the many people who use cannabis solely for pain or as a sleep aid are left out.

There are a few things that are known. Marijuana smoking in public is banned, as is consumption in a place of employment. And that’s about it. All this to say that it will be a long time before Florida has a California-style cannabis industry, with dispensaries lining streets in Key West or Miami. But that was to be expected.

“This is like raising the speed limit from 5 mph to 60 mph,” Morgan said. “It is going to be that dramatic.” Dramatic, and possibly just as bumpy.

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