Patients in Florida should applaud the Legislature's improvements to the constitutionally mandated demand by voters to allow for medical marijuana use.
Patients who qualify for medical marijuana, also known as cannabis, have "debilitating" diseases such as cancer, epilepsy or intestinal disorders that make life a herculean task without effective treatment. But Florida law does not allow patients to smoke their medicine. The reason, legislators said, was that smoking is hazardous to one's health. This is certainly true — though cancer patients likely are more concerned about the dangers posed by their cancer than their smoking — but that left Florida patients in a delicate limbo where they either had to use whatever was available or find alternate resources.
Still, there is work left undone, and the full Legislature, which must approve the legislation, may want to consider fine-tuning it, as Florida should encourage a medical marijuana market that is beneficial to patients but also operates under market conditions that can make money for their operators and incentivizes others to create competition, which would lead to more outlets and ultimately reduce prices.
For Bay County, the closest dispensary is in Tallahassee. And while it and other Florida dispensaries can sell online and ship anywhere in the state for those approved for a medical marijuana card, patients face a few more hurdles before they can take their medicine:
— Where is the closest dispensary? Unless you want a door-to-door-salesman-type experience, you may need to travel at least two hours to talk to someone in person. Otherwise, you're left to browse online and hope you get what you need.
— Because smoking medical marijuana is illegal, patients only could choose nonsmokable methods such as vape pens or capsules. For vape pens, a user pulls on the pen like you would a cigarette or cigar, but instead of smoke, you get a mix of cannabis oil, cutting agents and flavor. This oral method of delivery is not ideal. Under the legislation approved by House and Senate committees last week, patients will be able to buy prerolled marijuana cigarettes with a filter.
— Before the hurricane, and especially after it, finding a doctor approved to prescribe marijuana has been difficult. You need a few hundred bucks (or as much as $3,000, one doctor told us) to even see a physician about any condition. And almost all required another Florida doctor to give you a referral before you could make an appointment.
— Perhaps recognizing the hurdles patients were required to navigate, some medical marijuana advocates worked with third parties to provide a more sensible path: call for an appointment or book online. No initial referrer is required (although you do have to provide your medical records). After that, you have to shell out a few hundred more bucks (out of pocket), but at least you see a doctor. And if you've found a good one, he or she will guide you through the somewhat cumbersome process of applying for a medical marijuana card. Once you have that, you then must figure out what works best for you.
The bureaucratic red tape has been so thick it could dissuade even the most distinguishable patients from seeking relief. And in a promising twist, researchers right now are finding that certain strains of CBD-dominant cannabis can shrink tumors and relieve pain for which, so far, medical science has not discovered an effective relief.
So bravo to the Gov. DeSantis administration and Florida's legislators for setting an example of responsive governing. Let's continue the streak.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD