Thursday, July 19, 2018
Politics

Questions and answers about medical marijuana in Florida

Monday's Florida Supreme Court ruling puts medical marijuana on the November general election ballot. If the proposed constitutional amendment passes by at least 60 percent of the vote, state health officials will have to sort out many details before patients can legally obtain pot. Some specifics, however, are outlined in the proposed amendment. Here is what is known about how medical marijuana would work in Florida:

Who could use medical marijuana?

A person with a doctor's certificate stating that the patient qualifies for medical marijuana. The Florida Department of Health would issue an identification card to be shown at purchase. The card would let law enforcement know the patient can possess amounts set by law.

What medical conditions would qualify?

Specific diseases or other "debilitating" conditions for which the doctor thinks benefits of use would outweigh risk. Cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and Crohn's disease are all specified.

When could a patient start legally using marijuana?

The effective date of the amendment is Jan. 6. After that date, the Department of Health must implement regulations within six months and begin issuing identification cards within nine months. If the department fails to issue cards within nine months, the doctor's certification will serve as identification.

How much marijuana could a patient possess?

That will be determined by the Department of Health, based on what is "reasonably presumed to be an adequate supply.'' Patients who think they need more could appeal. Marijuana, oil, tinctures and cannabis-laced food products would be allowed.

How would a patient fill a prescription?

There will be no prescriptions because marijuana is not an FDA-approved medicine with controlled doses. It would be more like an over-the-counter herb. Certifying doctors must be licensed in Florida and perform a physical exam and "full assessment of a patient's history," but the amendment does not require doctors and patients to have an ongoing relationship.

Where would medical marijuana be sold?

Only at state-licensed dispensaries called "Medical Treatment Centers." Growers would also be licensed as treatment centers. The Department of Health would issue rules about how dispensaries would be monitored. Growing your own pot would remain illegal, as it is under current law.

What if the Department of Health writes regulations so restrictive that usage is effectively banned?

The department must issue "timely" and "reasonable" rules that "ensure the availability and safe use of medical marijuana by qualifying patients." If the regulations are too restrictive, any Florida citizen could sue to enforce constitutional intent.

Can caregivers possess marijuana?

A person over 21 can buy and handle the marijuana on behalf of up to five patients. Caregivers would have an identification card issued by the state.

How old must a patient be?

The amendment does not set age limits. In other states, use by minors requires parental consent, as with traditional medicinal treatments.

Would insurance cover it?

That would be up to the insurer. The amendment does not require coverage. Medicare does not cover nonprescription drugs and supplements.

What about using it at work or in schools?

Schools and employers would be free to prohibit on-site use. The amendment does not prohibit employers from requiring drug tests or imposing sanctions for positive results.

Would information on identification cards be public?

No. The Department of Health must keep records confidential, even from employers or family members. But the information could be disclosed for "valid medical or law enforcement purposes.''

Could the Legislature set up its own system to regulate medical marijuana?

Yes, but it could not contradict the amendment. For example, the Legislature could not make dispensaries illegal. However, it could permit home cultivation, which is now banned by statute.

Could the Florida Supreme Court ruling on the ballot language be appealed?

Not successfully. Federal courts leave interpretation of state constitutions to state courts.

Could pot-smoking in public be regulated just as cigarette smoking is regulated?

Yes. Calling it medicine does not confer the right to use pot anywhere.

What about DUI?

Driving under the influence of "medical" marijuana would still be illegal, as with alcohol.

Send your questions about the medical marijuana amendment to Stephen Nohlgren at [email protected]

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