EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO PUFF PUFF AND FEEL BETTER
For years, marijuana advertising in Miami was limited to some gentlemen strolling Ocean Drive mumbling “weedcoke” to unwitting tourists. Now, there are literally ads for weed on top of taxi cabs. Since Florida voters passed Amendment 2, legalizing medicinal marijuana in 2016, ads for marijuana doctors are popping up in local weeklies, on cabs, and even on billboards. But don’t let them fool you: We are a long way from becoming Colorado, and even after the ban on smokable stuff was lifted last month, there are still plenty of questions about how medical marijuana works in Florida.
For instance: Who are these doctors on the taxis, and how can I get them to write me a prescription? Where can I buy it? Do they have Taco Bells nearby?
To help iron it out, we talked to a few experts with intimate knowledge of the subject. Robert Chavez, an executive healthcare consultant formerly with the University of Miami Health System; Steve Berke, CEO of Bang Holdings, a publicly traded cannabis ad-tech company; seniors marijuana activist Robert Platshorn; and attorney Daniel Russell who has represented, among others, the Florida Lottery and Gulfstream Park. They gave us the skinny on who qualifies for medicinal marijuana, who can sell it, and what else to expect from the whole, Florida-ed up process.
How do I get a prescription for medical marijuana?
This is one of the few parts of the law that’s pretty straightforward. You, the patient, go to a doctor who’s state certified to prescribe medicinal marijuana (more on those later). These are the guys you see advertising as “pot docs” on billboards, who charge anywhere from $150-$250 for an examination. You must show you have one of the approved conditions, and, more importantly, that you’ve tried other treatments that haven’t worked. This prevents you from inventing “anxiety” to get legal weed — like you might do to get a support hamster on an airplane.
If the doctor signs off, you send your application and a check for $75 to the Florida Department of Health, which eventually sends you a card you can take into a dispensary to purchase your pot. Once you have said card you’re placed on the Compassionate Use Registry, basically a list of all the people in the state who have been prescribed marijuana. Your prescription is only good for 30 weeks, at which point you’ll need a doctor to sign off again. After one year you’ll need to have another in-person examination, which will cost you another $250 or so.
What are the approved conditions?
Strolling into the local pot doc and saying you have “chronic pain” like it’s the golden era of pill mills ain’t happening. Medicinal marijuana treatment is limited to a few conditions, specifically ALS, anxiety, anorexia, arthritis, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis (MS).
The law also allows for “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class,” meaning, for example, if you have an autoimmune condition similar to MS, like lupus, a doctor could prescribe marijuana for that. The caveat is meant for people with less common conditions, and is not broad language designed to allow doctors to prescribe for anything. You do actually have to be sick.
How do doctors qualify to prescribe medical marijuana?
Chavez told us that anyone with a medical degree and at least one year of post-graduate residency qualified for a medical license, and therefore could prescribe medicinal marijuana after completing the state-mandated two-hour course. God bless Florida. You can find a handy list of approved doctors here.
Where can I buy medical marijuana in Florida?
Just because you have a medicinal card doesn’t mean you can just call up your source down in Kendall and it’s all hunky-dory with the cops. You can only buy medical marijuana in Florida at a state-approved dispensary. There are almost 100 statewide (even in the panhandle), run by fourteen licensed companies. You must buy from one of them, or you can be cited by police even if your marijuana is legally prescribed. Get pulled over with your state-approved THC oil, and you’ll need to show the cops your card AND proof you bought it at a licensed dispensary, or it’s a long night of bologna sandwiches and ice-cold AC for you.
What can I buy at a Florida dispensary?
This is not Snoop Dogg’s CVS. You’re not rolling in armed with your prescription and picking up an ounce of bud like it’s Seattle and you’re on your lunch break. Hell, you’re not even picking up a package of minty-delicious brownies like in some other medicinally-legal states. What you’re getting now are extracts, oils, tinctures, and as of earlier this year, smokable marijuana. Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill overturning the state’s ban on smokable marijuana in March this year (2019), allowing patients to buy 2.5 ounces of whole flower cannabis every 35 days. But Russell it still won’t be as simple to buy as it is in other states.
“Florida dispensaries are not Colorado dispensaries,” he says. “The product isn’t in a glass jar for examination. It’s packaged up tightly in containers you cannot see into, and sold by strain and weight so the patient isn’t sorting through the jar for their best-looking choice of product.”
As of this moment, smokable pot isn’t in dispensaries while the Department of Health irons out the rules, but it’s on the horizon. Rules on edibles are coming at some point, but the Department of Health is moving about as quickly on this as Miami is on its soccer stadium, so don’t hold your breath.
Will insurance pay for medical marijuana?
Nope. And neither will Medicare or Medicaid. Straight cash, homie. Or maybe a credit card if you want to rack up some frequent flier miles.
Can I open a dispensary?
You cannot. OK, technically, yes you can, but technically you can also play point guard for the Heat. And that might actually be more likely. When the law first passed, the state mandated that anyone selling medicinal marijuana had to run the entire process, from growing and extracting to selling. And the whole vertically-integrated shebang fell under one license. Guess how many licenses were allotted in the third-most populous state in the country? Seven. And to prevent hucksters from coming down to Florida and immediately becoming farmers, the state also said applicants had to be in business for 30 YEARS to qualify.
That part of the law was struck down when a group of black farmers sued, and since then the state has expanded its licenses to a whopping 14.
The licenses have become hugely valuable, one selling in 2017 to a Canadian company for just under $50 million. If you don’t have that kind of cash, Berke says you’re SOL in the pot game. “This is not a mom-and-pop industry,” he said. “It’s all Wall Street money and public companies with billion-dollar valuations entering the market now. Everyone else has missed the boat.”
Am I allowed to grow my own medical marijuana?
Not unless you’ve got $50 million and a state license.