Sunshine State Goes Green: Medical Marijuana Has Expanded in Florida

Let the floodgates open. Medical marijuana can be used by Floridians, but it can only be consumed or vaped, not smoked. It allows patients to use cannabis pills, oils, edibles, and “vape” pens with a doctor’s approval, but bans smoking.

“The constitutional amendment was passed overwhelmingly, and I’m glad the House and Senate were able to come together for a bill that makes sense for our state,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said. He signed legislation, also known as SB-8A in June to implement the medical marijuana amendment voters approved last year. Amendment 2, sanctioned by 71 percent of the voters in November, took effect on Jan. 3 and required that laws had to be in place by July 3 for how patients can qualify and receive the drug.

Lawmakers passed the measure in a special session after failing in their regular session that ended in May to implement a constitutional amendment legalizing the drug. Yet haziness concerning the law runs rampant.

Specifically, patients who suffered from epilepsy, chronic muscle spasms, cancer, and terminal conditions were allowed under laws Scott signed in 2014 and 2016 to receive either low-THC cannabis or full strength medical marijuana. This new law adds people with HIV and AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other similar conditions.

Patients will be granted a 70-day supply of medical marijuana with two refills. SB-8A eliminates the 90-day waiting period before a physician can prescribe medical marijuana to a patient and outlines the requirements to qualify as a caregiver for someone who uses medical marijuana. SB-8A does not levy a tax on medical marijuana. In order to prescribe medical marijuana, physicians are required to take a course through the Florida Medical Association or Florida Osteopathic Medical Association costing $500.

The legislation also paves the way for 10 more medical marijuana treatment centers by Oct. 3 in addition to the seven already operating. Florida continues to follow in the footsteps of 29 other states in the march towards legalization of marijuana in the face of Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005). That Supreme Court decision upheld the federal government’s authority to regulate marijuana but it did not restrict the authority of state governments to make their own laws about marijuana. Nor did the Court rule on the specific issue of whether Congress intended the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to preempt California’s medical marijuana statute. Prohibitionists oversimplify this ruling as being a ban on medical marijuana.

In an influential dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor expressed concern about “excessive federal encroachment” on the “historic sphere of state sovereignty.” The dissent correctly emphasized that in the United States’ federalist system, the states play an important role as “laboratories” for “novel social and economic experiments,” and criticized the application of the federal CSA as “extinguish[ing] that experiment.”  Whatever you think about medical marijuana, positive or negative, the problem is that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.