Florida voters will be asked to approve a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot to permit marijuana use by individuals with serious medical conditions.
Medical Marijuana is ballot question 2. Ballot question 1 deals with land and water conservation while question 3 deals with prospective judicial vacancies.
The medical marijuana referendum language was approved by a divided Florida Supreme Court on January 27, 2014. The question required 683,149 valid signatures by February 1, 2014 to get on the ballot - supporters had collected more than 1.1 million signatures for certification by mid-January.
The official amendment text is paraphrased on the ballot.
The ballot states the law would allow marijuana use by individuals with debilitating diseases, as determined by a licensed Florida doctor. It would allow caregivers to assist patients’ medical marijuana usage. The text directs the Department of Health to register and regulate centers that produce and distribute medical marijuana, and to issue ID cards to patients and caregivers. Finally, the ballot question states the referendum does not authorize the violation of federal law or non-medical use, possession, or production of marijuana.
An initial Quinnipiac poll in November of 2013 found 82 percent of those sampled supported the measure while 16 percent opposed it. A more recent poll in April found the numbers to be 88 percent to 10 percent.
If the referendum passes, Florida would be the 22nd state to permit legal medical marijuana sales. California first approved such sales in 1996.
There is some confusion in Florida surrounding the issue. Both a Senate bill and House bill legalizing medical marijuana under programs similar to the ballot measure failed to pass in the spring 2014 legislature.
Governor Scott signed SB1030 (Act 157) on June 16, 2014 to allow some marijuana sales to specified medical patients. This measure is the so-called Charlotte’s Web provision – permitting low-level marijuana to be prescribed by a doctor to patients suffering from cancer or a disease that produces seizures or severe muscle spasms.
That type of marijuana is named for Charlotte Figi, a five year old girl whose epileptic seizures had a documented reduction after her first use of the drug in 2011. Charlotte’s dosage is delivered in oil placed under the tongue or over her food.
This legal marijuana must have low levels of THC (0.8% tetrahydrocannabinol) and no more than 10% CBD (cannabidiol). THC is the ingredient that produces a ‘high’.
The Florida Department of Health quickly offered draft rules to administer medical marijuana under the Charlotte’s Web law. The Department held a seven hour long hearing on the potential regulations on Monday, July 7. Prospective rules divide the state into five regions and propose to license five nurseries in each region. There may be a lottery system if there are many applicants.
If chosen by lottery, a company has 30 days to pay $150,000 for a license and post a $5 million performance bond. The company then has 120 days to dispense medicine or lose its license. .
Kerry Herndon has a large nursery operation in Homestead, but applied as a certified grower in the Central Florida region.
“The draft rules are horrendous,” said Herndon.
“Managers must be fingerprinted and pass level two background screening checks,” he said. “The state has a right to inspect any time, even daily. It’s an enormous burden on growers.”
Herndon said there are currently 39 Florida qualified growers on the Department of Agriculture list – a nurseryman cultivating more than 400,000 plants, in continuous operation for over 30 years, and holding a valid registration to grow medical marijuana. Out of state growers are not allowed.
Charlotte’s Web law expects growers to become the retail dispensers in each region. The rules require stores to be open at least 30 hours a week, no later than 10 pm on any night, and limits what other products can be sold. Cigarette sales are prohibited.
The Department of Health estimates125,000 Florida children have epilepsy. If the medical marijuana referendum passes, estimates are 420,000 patients would need the drug. Currently, about 1800 treatment centers are expected to be created.
“Growers are charged with creating medicines for desperately ill people,” Herndon said. “I am prepared to segregate an operation from the rest of the nursery. But everything depends on the final rules.”
Charlotte’s Web law takes effect January 1, 2015. It specifies the Department of Health rules must be adopted by that date. If the ballot referendum passes in November, that law requires the Department to issue rules within six months of passage.
This is part one of a two part series.