Florida Medical Marijuana Access Limited For Now
PANAMA CITY – Bay County residents who qualify for medical marijuana under a new state law likely won’t have access to it until May – at the earliest. And that could require a drive to Tallahassee or hiring a state-certified grower to deliver from their farm to the patient’s doorstep.
Florida voters on Nov. 8 passed Amendment 2, allowing broader access for florida medical marijuana to those with debilitating conditions. While counties and municipalities likely will decide where the dispensaries will be allowed and how many, the state Legislature will decide what companies will be dispensing the products and other regulations associated with the distribution of the product.
However, buying the drug in Bay County could take many months because of local moratoriums. Bay County and all of its municipalities have passed or had first readings on laws placing a temporary moratorium on the dispensing of the marijuana for between five and eight months, with the shortest time frame being Panama City Beach, which passed a moratorium that expires June 1.
Some area residents have decried the moratoriums, although they largely are only a formality; the state has six months from the amendment’s effective date of Jan. 3 to craft the amendment into law and nine months – until Oct. 3 – to implement it. In the meantime, Sarah Revell, marketing manager for the state Department of Health, said the agency, physicians, dispensing organizations and patients remain bound by the existing laws and rules.
However, Christian Bax, the director of the state’s Office of Compassionate Use, testified that patients shouldn’t have to wait that long. Bax testified Wednesday in the Legislature that the state Department of Health is working on completing its rule-making process for the high-THC marijuana in early May, before the July 3 deadline. He also said patients and doctors are bound only by a previously established law requiring a 90-day relationship before a physician can create an order.
Gov. Rick Scott, however, was less confident. “Given the lack of any regulatory framework, I would advise physicians to proceed with extreme caution,” he said Wednesday.
Bay County resident Sarah Stovall, an Amendment 2 supporter who has a bipolar condition that allowed her to get medical marijuana when she lived in Oregon, said she resents that local governments are putting moratoriums on dispensing the legal product. She also said she feels the state is taking too long to allow it to be dispensed.
“I’m impatient about it,” she said. “A doctor I spoke to that looked into it said this is a regulatory process. Now do I agree with the process and how long it takes with them not being prepared? No. As a bipolar patient, I need it. But at the same time, I can cope without it. It just is really frustrating.”
Stovall said medical marijuana is a less dangerous alternative to painkillers and other opiates prescribed by doctors.
“My daughter right now, we’re waiting for her to get an MRI done on her knee,” Stovall said. “It really bothers me because I’m giving her codeine to get rid of the pain, and codeine is an opiate, and opiates can cause a lot of (addiction) problems, especially when a minor has to take them early on in life.”
She said she is concerned the local moratoriums are just a precursor to local officials outright banning medical marijuana dispensaries.
But County Manager Bob Majka said he does not expect that to happen in Bay County, as he expects a ban would result in a legal challenge against the county.
“We’re trying to take a common-sense, critically thought-out approach to this,” Majka said. “I think that if we were to say that zero would be allowed, we would be in direct conflict with the will of the voters, so that’s not the issue.”
Majka said people who are accusing the county and cities of trying to go against the will of the voters by passing the moratoriums are “misinformed.”
“We’re not trying to limit access, and we’re not trying to prohibit access,” Majka said.
He said the eight-month moratorium on dispensaries should give the county time to adopt rules regarding where the dispensaries will go, as the new regulations might require a change to the county’s comprehensive land-use plan.
“We think that’s the adequate amount of time to go through all of the steps we have to go through both locally and throughout the state in making changes to the land-use plan and the county’s comp plan,” Majka said. “Let’s say you don’t want to have these facilities located within 1,000 feet of a school. We would need to put that into our land-use code so that that would be reflected from a zoning perspective. Another question is: How many do we want to have located next to each other? Do we want rows of them?”
He said the county at this point is not looking at allowing dispensaries by ratio of population.
“I’ve heard in conversations some data that shows that you should have one of these (dispensaries) for every 60,000 residents, and a county like Bay County ought to have three,” Majka said. “From our perspective, the market should determine that based on demand.”