Florida marijuana

Miami’s Vice: How Are Growers In The State Dealing With Florida’s Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative?

I’ve grown cannabis in my Florida home for years, and my attorney recently advised me to register with the state’s Amendment 2 medical marijuana program, because it would give me partial legal protection if I were caught growing or possessing the plant.

In 2016, a supermajority of more than 71 percent of voters who cast ballots approved Amendment 2, or the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, a law that allows for vaping the plant as edibles or oils, but not for consumption through smoking. Under the rules put in place by Florida’s Department of Health, residents are also barred from at-home or small-scale growing for personal used, including patients registered in the new system.

Amendment 2 also sets up a complicated system whereby patients must go to registered doctors for cannabis recommendations and are limited to buying from a menu of often inferior, overpriced cannabis products at a handful of state-licensed dispensaries.

While Florida already had a medical marijuana law in place, it was only for terminally ill patients who had less than a year to live. The goal of Amendment 2 was to broaden the scope of patients who were allowed medicinal-use cannabis to include those living with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or those suffering chronic pain caused by a qualifying medical condition comparable to those listed (although, the legislation doesn’t allow patients to use medical marijuana based on chronic pain alone).

The law’s passage was the beginning of a confusing, frustrating mess created by Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature, with lawmakers having stalled the set-up and staffing of a medical cannabis state agency to enable the legislation required by Amendment 2.

They dragged their feet until voters and sponsors of Amendment 2 began filing lawsuits to force them to take action. Those Republican lawmakers finally passed legislation months after their original timelines had been and gone. And predictably, that legislation was flawed and unworkable for many within the cannabis community.

I found out firsthand just how flawed and unworkable the new Amendment 2 system is when I tried to register.

Before I tell you about that, I must admit that outing myself to a state agency as a cannabis user was a risk, especially because I grow marijuana at home, which is still illegal and classed as a serious felony in Florida.

For many years, as long as I stayed underground and followed my security procedures, nobody knew I was involved with cannabis. But when I outed myself by applying for a medical marijuana card, it placed me on an official database owned by law enforcement and state government, which is of course a worry.

My attorney confirmed that participating in the medical marijuana database could result in law enforcement scrutiny, but this scrutiny was outweighed by the potential benefits of having in place the protection of a medical marijuana card, should I be caught growing or possessing marijuana.

He further explained that before Amendment 2 passed, Floridians used to at least have the defense of medical marijuana necessity. Indeed, a handful of people in the state caught growing or possessing cannabis successfully argued in court that their medical conditions gave them no other choice but to illegally procure or produce cannabis.

But with the successful passage of Amendment 2, my lawyer concluded that courts and juries would most likely counter that you have no necessity defense, because you can purchase cannabis at a legal dispensary. However, he also indicated that, given the quality and small menu of legal cannabis products available, a defendant might still be able to claim medical necessity. The claim would be based on not being able to find quality marijuana or the right type and/or quantity to legally purchase and alleviate a health issue.

Joe Redner, Champion of Strip Clubs — And Medical Marijuana

One of my favorite Florida people is Tampa-based Joe Redner, a stage-four lung cancer patient, adult night club and first amendment advocate, and a fighter for marijuana freedom.

Redner is already famous in Florida for battling police, government officials, and religious zealots who oppose his Tampa Bay-area nude dance clubs. He’s endured years of protests, police raids, threats, violence and sabotage, as various conservative groups tried unsuccessfully to shut down his exotic clubs.

In 2011, Redner was diagnosed with cancer and turned to cannabis as part of his treatment.

In 2017, he filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida, saying Amendment 2 should allow people to grow their own cannabis.

“The schwag you see at the legal dispensaries isn’t going to help me or a lot of other people who need to use medical marijuana,” Redner says. “The only way to have enough marijuana of the right strains for your particular condition is to grow it yourself. Amendment 2 forces us to pay high prices for processed marijuana that doesn’t help us medically.”

Redner is an advocate of cannabis raw juicing, which requires many ounces of whole, fresh cannabis buds that you can’t buy at Florida retailers.

“You can’t get whole marijuana from dispensaries, and even if you could, the amount you’d need for raw marijuana juicing would cost thousands per month. I’m suing for the right to grow my own,” he explains.

Florida’s Department of Health attempted to have Redner’s lawsuit dismissed, but a circuit court judge recently refused that request, saying Redner’s arguments have constitutional legitimacy, setting a trial date for March, 2018.

Redner says it’s unacceptable that the state of Florida won’t allow him to grow healing plants, yet he’s allowed to possess many bottles of prescription opioid painkillers.

“[Florida law enforcement is] fine with me having pharmaceutical drugs that are addictive and can kill me,” Redner explains, “but they’re not OK with me growing the best marijuana strains so I have the cannabinoids, terpenoids and quantities of cannabis I need to help me stay alive.”

Redner believes the judge will rule in his favor, setting a precedent that Floridians who qualify for Amendment 2 have a constitutional right to grow their own.

He also has another lawsuit related to growing weed. One of the more notable flaws of Amendment 2 is that it only allows a handful of well-connected, large-scale commercial agriculture companies to receive a state license to grow and manufacture in Florida to supply the dispensaries with their products. For that reason, Redner wants a commercial grow license, too.

“The current state-licensed growers have no expertise in cannabis genetics or growing,” Redner insists. “The lottery that decides who gets a commercial Florida marijuana growing license is biased and amounts to insider favors. I’m suing so I have the right to grow cannabis, not only for myself but also for other people. I guarantee you I’ll produce way stronger and cleaner cannabis than any other growers.”

Redner says he doesn’t know when his lawsuit pertaining to growing commercial marijuana will be heard in a Florida court of law, but he anticipates it could happen within the year.

Doctors Confused About Florida Cannabis Laws

When I started the long process of procuring my Amendment 2 medical marijuana card, the first thing I had to do was find a doctor who specialized in cannabis. As with other problems in the rollout of Amendment 2, the state had yet to set up a workable system to ensure there are enough medical marijuana professionals and dispensaries to serve Floridians who need cannabis.

The Department of Health claims that around 64,000 Floridians have joined the medical marijuana program, but there are only 884 physicians who’ve taken state-mandated training so that they’re allowed to issue medical marijuana recommendations.

The doctor I finally found was a family practice physician who transitioned into medical marijuana recommendations because she believed marijuana recommendations is a more lucrative field in medicine.

Unfortunately, though she was nice, the doctor knew absolutely nothing about the plant’s medical value. In our very brief office visit, she asked me about the medical problems I sought to treat and how long I’d had them.

Although the law requires a cannabis doctor to specify the types and amounts of cannabis that will best help me, my doctor had no clue. She gave me a list of online and bricks-and-mortar dispensaries, and advised me to buy a small amount of product to test and see if they suited my medical issues.

She told me that many of her medical marijuana patients had complained to her about the high cost and small selection of products at Florida dispensaries. She also reported that about 25 percent of her patients complained that dispensary products had mold or weren’t potent.

I was eager to get my medical marijuana card so I could see for myself what was being sold at the dispensaries. But getting that piece of paper turned out to be very difficult due to the broken bureaucracy. After I paid the doctor $300 and had my mandatory ID photo taken (which again made me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable), the doctor had to activate my application with the state.

Two months later, I’d heard nothing about whether my application had been approved, even though I called the medical marijuana agency every week.

Finally, it was approved, and I asked when I’d get my medical marijuana card. I was told two weeks, but it took seven weeks, and other patients have had to wait much longer than that.

When I finally had the card in my possession, I made a beeline for Trulieve, a retailer that’s part of a medical marijuana dispensary chain. What a joke! All it had on offer wwere generic oils, tinctures, creams and a cannabinoid inhaler. The people on staff didn’t seem to have an understanding of marijuana genetics or strains. Their product descriptions are written in broad brushstrokes that tell you very little about the product and say things like, “This is sativa and contains THC,” without giving you a lab analysis that tells you the percentages and ratios of THC, CBD, CBN and terpenoids.

I wasn’t inclined to buy any of that high-priced dispensary schwag, but my doctor told me I had to buy something from the dispensary in order to recertify me as a legitimate cannabis user every 70 days, as required by the state. Of course, this provision costs me additional money and time every couple of months.

At the dispensary — which was a joke compared to retailers in legalized states like California, Colorado and Oregon — I spent more than $100 buying the minimum number of products possible, purchasing a vape pen cartridge and an oil extract. Because I grow my own top-grade marijuana, when I tried the dispensary products, I couldn’t even feel them. To me they were worthless.

Florida Patients Forced To Go To Colorado For Cannabis

While I was at that Florida dispensary, I encountered a man whose wife has terminal cancer and is in terrible pain. She needs large amounts of bud that can be processed into marijuana medibles — but the dispensaries don’t sell flower. In fact, there is no provision within Amendment 2 that allows you to vaporize or combust whole cannabis.

The man was buying dispensary products because his wife’s doctor instructed him to, in an effort to protect her medical marijuana card eligibility.

“I can’t rely on Florida medical marijuana dispensaries,” he explains. “I have to go to Colorado, buy what we need, and ship it or drive it back here. I have to hire a caregiver for my wife while I’m gone.”

It’s costing him hundreds of dollars per month for the medical marijuana, plus the travel and shipping cost of procuring out of state. He’s angry that Amendment 2 had done nothing to help his wife and that he has to risk criminal charges and go through a lot of hardship — but it’s worth it to ease his wife’s suffering.

“I believe the state of Florida cannabis laws are contributing to the death and suffering of my wife,” he says. “I know for a fact marijuana reduces tumors and has helped some people beat cancer. If my wife didn’t have a husband or friend like me who’s retired and has the money and time to get marijuana from Colorado, she’d already be dead, and she’d have died in terrible pain, and from starving to death due to the chemotherapy.”

When I went back to my doctor for the 70-day mandatory recertification, she abruptly told me it would be the last time I saw her. She explained it was too much work and risk for her to be a medical marijuana physician. She didn’t like the paperwork, the online filing, the bureaucracy, the low-quality cannabis medicines. She was going back to general practice.

Worse yet, she said state and national physician licensing agencies and medical associations warned her that participating in the medical marijuana industry put her at risk of violating federal law, and could result in the loss of her medical license.

She gave me the contact details of the physician who would be taking her patient caseload, but when I spoke to that doctor, he admitted he too was considering leaving the medical marijuana field.

My attorney told me if it’s too much hassle to find a physician, I should just do nothing and see what happens when my medical marijuana card is due for renewal — although, he also expressed cautious optimism that Redner’s lawsuit may legalize personal-use cannabis growing in Florida altogether.

All I can do is be thankful that I illegally grow my own Florida marijuana, so I don’t have to rely on dispensary medicine or doctors.

And if Redner is successful, I’ll be able to legally grow my own, and that will be a liberating day of celebration for me and many others in the Florida cannabis industry.

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