The results of the U.S. presidential election overshadowed the results of a few very significant votes: the legalization of recreational marijuana in California, Massachusetts and Nevada. Earlier in the night on Nov. 8, 2016, Florida voters (who played a major role in the presidential election, too) passed a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, which was, in fact, the first victory scored by the pro-legalization side on a critical night in America. It took the people of Florida some serious legwork to make it to the legalization stage, but will they follow their West Coast allies in making medical marijuana available to the same extent?
This serious legwork should not be underestimated. The pro-legalization side in the Sunshine State has had a serious fight on their hands for the past few years, even to reach the point they’re at now. Unlike California, where it’s possible to avail of medical marijuana with a medical marijuana card, the situation in Florida is a little thornier. The vote brought to the table this past November was one of the briefest legalization laws ever passed in America. From start to finish, it only takes up five pages. It’s titled Amendment 2, and although you may think that the brevity of the law makes it clear and concise, it actually provides more problems than solutions.
It essentially means there are a lot of details left to iron out and many debates to be had over the intricacies of the bill. And it’s already had some teething problems since its birth. Although the law was accepted in November, it wasn’t actually passed until Jan. 3, 2017. And it’s not even fully legal yet.
Although medical marijuana is legal in spirit in Florida, Amendment 2 specifically states that patients must obtain a letter of certification from a physician and a state-issued, valid medical marijuana card. Fair enough. The problem lies in that fact that these required ID cards are not available to citizens and won’t be until at least June 2017.
Fortunately, there is a mechanism in place that states that the Florida Department of Health must finalize its medical marijuana regulations by June 3, 2017. So with a bit of luck, there won’t be too much dillydallying.
The question, then, is what can go wrong in that time? The introduction and management of the state’s new MMJ laws will be overseen by two key people: Florida’s Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Celeste Philip and Gov. Rick Scott. Scott is the man in charge, but Philip runs the Florida Department of Health, which, according to Amendment 2, is responsible for overseeing the implementation and regulation of MMJ. For Scott’s part, he opposed medical marijuana in 2014 but has had little to say in recent months about Amendment 2 and its implications.
That could be because he’s playing to the gallery. About 71 percent of Florida’s voters were in favor of legalizing MMJ, and Scott could potentially make himself very unpopular very quickly if he pushes back against the will of his people. So it’s clear to all involved that this is a crucial time in the quest to legalize MMJ in Florida. The Senate is preparing its medical marijuana plan, and it remains to be seen exactly what routes and decisions will affect it. The issues on the table are varied and intricate. The most controversial ones comprise who should be considered eligible for MMJ treatment and how many licenses should be given out to marijuana growers.
It remains to be seen whether Florida will embrace MMJ laws to the same extent as California. Two main features of California’s laws have yet to be discussed in relation to the Sunshine State, as they’re regarded as too liberal to be introduced immediately. The first is that California has no limits on possession of MMJ, whereas Florida requires that patients have a physician’s recommendation before they acquire MMJ from state-licensed dispensaries. California also allows patients to cultivate their own marijuana at home. In Florida’s case, this is not allowed to any degree.
California has been a kind of trailblazer in many respects on the issue of MMJ, and it’s great to see other states following their lead. Even though Florida has a fight on their hands with a good few issues to smooth over, the fact that Amendment 2 was supported overwhelmingly by the people should provide a clear path to legalizing MMJ across the board. Although it remains to be seen if Florida will be as welcoming to the treatment as their partners on the West Coast, the good news is that the first few key steps have been made successfully. Only time will tell how Florida implements the legalization of medical marijuana and when exactly it’ll be freely available to patients.