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Florida Activists’ Fight For Medical Marijuana Access

Three months after Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, state health officials and prospective weed-seeking patients are at odds over proposed rules that would spell out who could get marijuana.

State officials have urged limitations on what sort of patients may be eligible for medical marijuana, and where they are able to get it. Their ideas have prompted a tide of questions across the state, with almost 1,300 residents attending what are typically low-key bureaucratic hearings to press for less restrictions to marijuana access.

“Patients, physicians, health professionals and activists all had a unified message that is uncommon said Ben Pollara, who’s the campaign manager for United for Care. “They want impediments removed and a free market place.”

Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of voters last November, was enacted on Jan. 3. It permits stronger-strength marijuana to be used for a more extensive list of medical ailments than what was presently permitted in state law. The rules have turned into a flashpoint since the amendment requires the state to embrace them by July 3 and have them in place by September.

Hearings were held by the state in a number of places and Thursday’s two hours of public testimony in Tallahassee reflected what occurred before this week in Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando. Most who discussed statewide are also worried about high costs and limited availability so far of marijuana products. Just five of the seven organizations approved to dispense cannabis are up and running.

Activists want a requirement removed that a patient must be under a prescribing doctor’s care for at least 90 days. In addition they believe it should be up to physicians to deem when medical marijuana is mandatory and not be confined by the conditions enumerated in the amendment or by the Board of Medicine.

A former judge who testified in Tallahassee, Doug Bench, stated that people frequently delay seeing a doctor until they desperately need treatment.

“When you’re ill you put it off. You don’t want to hear what the doctor says and by the time you finally go you need it now,” Bench said.

The present law — which was approved by the state legislature in 2014 — allows for non-smoked, low-THC marijuana for patients with ailments or cancer that cause chronic seizures or acute spasms. It was enlarged last March to permit patients with terminal illnesses to obtain access to higher potency cannabis.

All opinions it has received will be reviewed by the department and agency officials will subsequently publish another proposed rule. How fast that rule gets published depends on subsequent public remarks or any legal challenges.

The Florida Legislature may also get an opportunity to weigh in. There are just two bills in the Senate together with the House of Representatives anticipated to release its version before session starts on March 7.

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