Floridians will vote Nov. 4 on whether to legalize medical marijuana. What could it mean for patients, the health care industry and the burgeoning pot industry if the required 60 percent of voters say yes to pot? Here are some key facts to keep in mind:
1) Nobody will be buying or selling legal medical pot in Florida until late 2015 or early 2016
Amendment 2 gives the Florida Department of Health until early July to establish regulations to make the system work. The department then has until early October to license the first Medical Treatment Centers. Until then, no one can start growing, much less selling. The first harvest might not come in until late 2015 or beyond. Regulations may forbid Treatment Centers from importing pot from other states or countries for resale. And even if Florida does allow that, postal regulations. airline rules and state laws probably would make importation impractical. Imagine a truck full of pot driving from Colorado to Florida. If it gets stopped in Arkansas, authorities will not care that the pot is legal in both Colorado and Florida. Buyers probably will have to await the first harvest.
2) The regulations will fill in many missing details
The amendment does not address the sale of medical marijuana to minors. The regulations will probably mimic other states and require parental consent, but those regulations remain to be drafted. Regulators will also decide whether caregivers can have criminal records, how much pot a patient could possess, whether Florida will honor a medical marijuana card from another state and dozens of other details. The amendment foresees that regulators will establish Treatment Center licensing fees and procedures, as well as rules about security, inventory control, testing and inspections. Local zoning laws could also come into play.
3) Some issues are spelled out in the amendment
The amendment specifically states that driving a car or boat under the influence of marijuana would remain illegal. Marijuana could still be banned from workplaces, schools and public spaces. No insurance company or government agency can be forced to cover the cost of medical marijuana.
4) Regulations must be "reasonable" and ensure the "availability and safe use"
These two phrases in the amendment could determine the outcome of any court fights over regulations or any new laws passed by the Legislature. If the Department of Health issues regulations that are too strict — say limiting counties to only one dispensary — then any citizen could sue, arguing that the regulation is unreasonable and does not ensure availability. The same would apply to new legislation that tried to restrict the system unreasonably. The amendment puts medical marijuana into the Florida Constitution, which would take precedence in any court fight over laws or regulations.
5) The amendment establishes new immunities
Doctors and Treatment Centers and their employees could not be sanctioned criminally or civilly for acting in accordance with the amendment and the regulations. Patients could not be sanctioned civilly or criminally for using medical marijuana. Opponents worry that this immunity would protect a medical marijuana user who drove under the influence and caused an accident. Proponents say the civil immunity is designed to protect patients from losing custody fights or employment actions simply because they use medical marijuana. A pot user could still be sued for driving under the influence, they say, because that is negligent behavior, whether the driver has taken a prescription drug, alcohol or medical marijuana.