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Cannabis Legalization in Florida

Bottom Line:

Cannabis in Florida has been legal for qualifying medical patients since 2016, though remains illegal for recreational consumption. However, it is widely expected that Florida will legalize recreational cannabis by way of referendum in 2020 or 2022.

Florida has endured one of the most complex and frustrating journeys to eventual medical cannabis legalization. Medical marijuana is now legal for authorised users, though thousands of patients were forced to wait several years to access cannabis for their conditions. Today, Florida’s medical cannabis policy is comparatively liberal, though there is still no allowance for the legal use of recreational cannabis.

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When Was Medical Cannabis Legalized in Florida?

Briefly summarised, Florida’s journey to medical cannabis legalization began in 2014, when despite winning 57.6% of the vote, Amendment 2 failed to reach the 60% majority required. Most citizens had voted in favour of medical cannabis legalization, though it would remain illegal nonetheless. It wasn’t until 2016 that Amendment 2 would finally be enacted, having received a sizeable 71.3% of the vote in a subsequent ballot.

The pages of Amendment 2 stated that the objective of the ballot was to bring patients across the state much needed relief from conditions including “cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.”

In any case, the rollout of the legislation and the state’s medical pot policy was so laboured and drawn out that thousands of qualifying patients were still unable to access medical cannabis for some time.

How Do I Get a Prescription for Medical Marijuana in Florida?

Medical pot policy in Florida is extremely complex, though obtaining a cannabis card (if you qualify) is actually quite easy. All you need to do is look up a doctor that supports medical cannabis use, receive a diagnosis for a qualifying condition and demonstrate that you’d already tried more ‘conventional’ approaches to its treatment. Cannabis doctors typically charge around $150 to $250 for a consultation and aren’t afraid to scrutinise. Roughly translated, you won’t get away with faking anxiety, depression, insomnia and so on.

If you’re deemed suitable for medical cannabis, you’ll then submit your application plus a $75 fee to the Florida Department of Health. After which, you’ll be sent a medical cannabis card by post. Your name and details will be added to Florida’s Compassionate Use Registry, which keeps track of every medical cannabis patient state-wide. On the downside, each medical cannabis prescription is only valid for 30 weeks. In addition, a fresh $250-ish consultation and diagnosis is required each year to continue using medical cannabis legally.

What Are the Approved Conditions in Florida?

Florida has a comparative compact list of formal conditions that qualify for medical cannabis use. However, there is also some leeway for patients with “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class”. This means that if you suffer from a debilitating condition that doesn’t appear on the list, your doctor may still deem you suitable for medical cannabis and issue a certificate accordingly.

Officially, the list of qualifying conditions extends to ALS, anxiety, anorexia, arthritis, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis (MS). Despite the flexibility afforded to physicians, it is generally rare for a doctor to plead the case of a patient who doesn’t have a very serious case not covered by the usual list. Again, faking it to score legal pot in Florida simply isn’t an option.

Which Doctors Can Prescribe Medical Cannabis in Florida?

There are no specific additional requirements that must be met for a doctor to legally prescribe medical cannabis in Florida. Just as long at the physician has a recognised medical degree and minimum one year’s residency in a formal medical institution, he or she can recommend patients for medical cannabis. There is a state-mandated two-hour course that must be completed before going ahead and prescribing medical pot, but there are no prerequisites regarding which doctors can take the course.

Where Can I Buy Medical Marijuana in Florida?

After a relatively sluggish start, the medical cannabis retail scene in Florida is beginning to hit its stride. To date, close to 100 licensed dispensaries have opened their doors and are now in business. Most of which are located in the state’s bigger towns and cities, so you still may find yourself a fair distance from your nearest cannabis store.

The cannabis black market in Florida remains a huge problem for lawmakers, due largely to the unavailability of recreational cannabis. Nevertheless, many medical cannabis patients continue to turn to back-street dealers for cheaper and more accessible cannabis. Unfortunately, buying cannabis from anywhere other than a licensed dispensary is 100% illegal. Even if you have a medical cannabis prescription, you’re forbidden from accessing it through non-authorised channels.

What About Transportation of Cannabis in Florida?

Police officers in Florida are required by state law to demand proof of purchase AND proof of eligibility from patients carrying medical cannabis. Roughly translated, you’ll need to carry your cannabis card and your receipt at all times while transporting your pot. If you cannot prove that you bought it from a licensed dispensary, it will be assumed that you obtained it illegally. Which, depending on how much you’re carrying, could easily land you an overnight stay behind bars.

What Cannabis Products Can I Buy at a Florida Dispensary?

Medical cannabis may be legal in Florida, but can only be sold and purchased in several specific forms. Unlike elsewhere, cannabis is currently restricted to extracts, tinctures, oils and (as of VERY recently) smokable cannabis. Since March 2019, it’s been possible to pick up high-quality cannabis flowers to the tune of 2.5-oz every 30 days from a Florida dispensary. Prior to this, smokable cannabis was off the cards.

For the time being, edibles are 100% unavailable at dispensaries in Florida. New legislation is to be drawn up at some point regarding edibles, though even at this late stage they’re still technically illegal. Another example of Florida’s incredible slow-moving medical cannabis reform.

Can Medical Cannabis Patients in Florida Grow Their Own?

Unless you’re fabulously wealthy and have decades of experience, the answer is no. Medical cannabis patients across the board are forbidden from growing their own, irrespective of how far they live from a licensed dispensary. Regardless of whether or not you can access and/or afford medical cannabis in Florida, you cannot (realistically) grow your own.

Could I Open My Own Dispensary?

We say ‘realistically’ because qualifying for a commercial cannabis license in Florida is borderline impossible. The scarcity of the permits available is such that one cannabis cultivation and distribution license was recently awarded to a Canadian company for a whopping $50 million. Unless something drastic happens with the state’s recreational cannabis policy, there’s no allowance whatsoever for going into business. Incredibly, they also require all applicants planning to farm cannabis in Florida to have at least THIRTY years of relevant farming experience.

What if I Buy Cannabis Without a Medical Permit?

Medical cannabis may be legal for authorised users, but recreational pot remains illegal at every level. Florida is yet to even decriminalise cannabis possession in small quantities, which can still land those flouting the law in a world of trouble.

For example, if you’re caught in possession of less than 20g of cannabis on your person, you’ll face the minimum punishment – which is still a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in prison. If you’ve more than 20g on your person, you can expect a fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.

Penalties for cultivation can be particularly severe – prison sentences of up to 15 years and fines payable of up to $25,000. You could also find yourself facing the same $25,000 fine and 15 years behind bars for illegally transporting or supplying cannabis.

Suffice to say, a risk not worth taking in all instances.

Is Recreational Cannabis Coming to Florida Anytime Soon?

As is the case elsewhere, it’s still something of a coin-toss as to whether recreational cannabis will be legalized in Florida anytime soon. On one hand, it’s clear that the public is slowly but surely getting behind cannabis in general. Polls suggest that support for recreational cannabis legalization is growing, though may not hit the required highs (no pun intended) for a couple of years at least.

Policy makers have indicated that a recreational cannabis referendum in Florida could take place as early as 2020. However, 2022 is a more likely estimate for the next vote. At which time, it will be a case of the public deciding the future of the state’s pot policy.