Voters will decide if Florida should expand medical marijuana law

By Joe Dyton | Nov 7, 2016

TALLAHASSEE -- On Nov. 8, Floridians can vote on a proposed revision to a state constitution amendment, Amendment 2, that would expand the law governing medical marijuana and its users.

Currently, Florida licensed physicians may prescribe limited doses of low-THC cannabis and medical cannabis to their patients in compliance with state laws and regulations. Amendment 2 could broaden the type of medical marijuana available to Florida residents.

“More than anything, (Amendment 2) will broaden the ability for providers in Florida to order and/or certify medical marijuana for qualifying patients, and for qualifying patients in Florida to have access to medical marijuana when they are diagnosed with a qualifying condition,” Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP attorney Erin Smith Aebel told the Florida Record.

Smith Aebel said the range of medical conditions for which medical marijuana will be available is much broader under Amendment 2 than what is current available under Florida’s Right to Try Act. 

"Also, the amendment provides for further decriminalization for physicians, caregivers, patients and treatment centers. Marijuana will, of course, remain illegal at the federal level, even if the amendment passes," Smith Aebel said.

The state’s low-THC cannabis law dates back to June 2014 when Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 1030 into law, enacting the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014. The act created a system that allowed the growth, cultivation, distribution and prescription of certain low-THC strains of medical marijuana.

Initially, the statue only decriminalized the use of low-THC cannabis exclusively in oil and vapor form and specifically excluded administration of the low-THC cannabis by smoking.

In May 2015, Scott signed Florida’s Right to Try Act (RTTA) into law, as well. The act gave terminally ill patients access to investigational drugs, biologic products and devices that have successfully gone through the first phase of a clinical trial, but that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved for general use. At the time RTTA went into law, it didn’t apply to medical cannabis.

Florida voters had a chance to vote on the proposed Amendment 2 in November 2014. More than 57 percent of voters were in favor of the amendment, but it fell short of the 60 percent required to pass a constitutional amendment in Florida. Two years later, the amendment has gained enough momentum to potentially pass, according to Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick attorney Rachel Goodman.

“In 2014, 57.62 percent of Floridians voted in favor of passing a medical marijuana amendment, just over two percentage points shy of passing the amendment,” Goodman told the Florida Record. “This year, polling shows that it will pass, with most polls showing 70 percent of Floridians in favor of the amendment.”   

While Florida has decriminalized certain types and uses of medical marijuana, it’s key for physicians to remember that the drug is still deemed illegal in the United States, even for medical use, despite which way the vote goes. In other words, according to federal law, a physician cannot legally prescribe marijuana to a patient, the attorneys clarified.

Florida’s current laws regarding medical marijuana will go a long way toward helping eligible patients and the passage of Amendment 2 passing would help even more.

“Certainly a yes vote would be more impactful for the medical community as it would broaden the ability of providers to use medical marijuana as a treatment took for their patients,” Aebel said.

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Florida House of Representative Florida State Senate Governor Rick Scott Shumaker, Loop, Kendrick, LLP State of Florida

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