TALLAHASSEE — Dr. Joseph Dorn has had a unique vantage point when it comes to the burgeoning medical marijuana industry in Florida.
Dorn was the medical director of Surterra Therapeutics, which is one of the six dispensing organizations licensed to grow and distribute medical cannabis in the state. He resigned from that position two months ago and has opened a medical marijuana treatment center as Amendment 2 takes effect today.
The constitutional amendment, which was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters, allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments. However, the true measure of what the amendment means won't be immediately seen until a new set of rules are adopted and implemented by the Florida Legislature and the Department of Health.
"I think the expectations for most people is it is going to be a free-for-all, and all people have to do is get their cards to receive it," Dorn said. "I think there is going to be a lot of chaos initially because there is still a lot of work to be done."
The upcoming year will be important, considering the health and economic factors at play.
A study recently released by Arcview Market Research and New Frontier Data showed that Florida is on track to log more than $1 billion in medical marijuana sales by 2019 and surpass Colorado within four years.
What the amendment does
It allows the use of medical marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed physician. In 2014, the Florida Legislature approved the use of low-THC and non-smoked cannabis for patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms. It was expanded last year to include patients with terminal conditions under the Right to Try Act and allowed them to use higher strains.
Patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or other similar conditions will now be covered.
How patients can obtain marijuana
Patients must be under the care of a licensed physician who has completed the required eight-hour course and examination for at least three months. Dorn, who is one of three approved physicians in Tallahassee, said he is nearly booked with appointments for the upcoming week.
According to the Department of Health, 340 physicians are registered. Christian Bax, who runs the Office of Compassionate Use, which is tasked with regulating medical marijuana, said last month he expects for there to be a significant increase in registered physicians during the first quarter of the year.
There are currently 1,495 patients in the state registry but that number will steadily increase.
Five of the seven licensed organizations have received authorization to distribute medical marijuana. CHT Medical, which was approved two weeks ago, will begin in-home delivery this month. At least one more additional license will likely be granted after a recent settlement between the Department of Health and two Southwest Florida nurseries.
Once the patient registry reaches 250,000, an additional three licenses will be made available, one of which will be designated for black farmers.
Dispensaries are open in Tallahassee, Clearwater and Tampa but according to the Florida League of Cities, 55 cities statewide have zoning moratoriums in place either banning or restricting dispensaries. Eight additional cities are considering moratoriums.
Most moratoriums are temporary as cities and counties await new regulations from Amendment 2's passage.
Five more legislative committee weeks are scheduled before the start of the Florida Legislature on March 7. The Florida Senate's Health Policy committee held a workshop in early December to hear concerns from all parties. The House's Health Policy committee has not met yet.
The amendment allows the Department of Health and Legislature to come up with the regulatory framework.
Those who opposed the amendment are urging lawmakers to uphold the tenants of the amendment, especially when it comes to putting laws in place to ban pot candy.
Whatever path the Legislature and Department of Health decide to go down, only one thing is certain — the clock is ticking to get it done.