Ban on Smoking Medical Marijuana Lifted in Florida
Controversy and Cannabis Restrictions
The Sunshine State officially approved medical marijuana just two years ago, joining the growing movement in America for cannabis reform. However, even as the state embraced medicinal benefits of marijuana, there were still plenty of restrictions established to limit use of the substance. One of the most controversial restrictions was the ban on smoking medical marijuana. However, Florida officials have now lifted the ban on selling marijuana buds in the state, effectively making it legal for medical marijuana patients to smoke cannabis.
Medical Marijuana in Florida
In 2014, the Florida legislature enacted the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014. This allows for patients who qualify to obtain low-THC cannabis with a physician’s recommendation. Then in 2016 the statute was amended to include full-strength cannabis, but only for terminally ill patients.
Currently, Florida law does set some limits on patient possession of cannabis and what circumstances qualify patients for medical marijuana. Qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in Florida include:
- Crohn’s disease
- Chronic nonmalignant pain*
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Terminal illness (patients diagnosed with no more than 12-months to live)
- Other debilitating medical conditions comparable to those enumerated
However, lawmakers did limit the scope of medical marijuana access by only allowing for cannabis to be dispensed as:
- Vaping juices
In other words, smoking medical marijuana up until now has been deliberately excluded from legal means of consumption. According to lawmakers, this could easily lead to recreational use and drug abuse.
Sources close to former Governor Rick Scott’s administration implied that the ban on smoking medical marijuana was because of the adverse health implications often associated with smoking cannabis, not to mention the social stigma associated with “stoners.” Needless to say, many advocates felt that stigma should not be a determining factor in deciding policy.
Florida lawyer sues the state
Considering the debate around lawmakers deciding to ban smokable marijuana, it is no surprise that a lawsuit would attempt to overturn these restrictions. One advocate
Morgan’s argument is that Florida legislators actually violated voter’s intent when they prohibited smoking medical marijuana after the public had voted to approve the medicinal use of cannabis.
Morgan filed a lawsuit in the Leon County Circuit Court in 2017 to sue the state of Florida for the ban on smoking medical marijuana. He argued,
“By redefining the constitutionally defined term ‘medical use’ to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of ‘a licensed Florida physician’ and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process.”
Not too long after, Florida Judge Karen Gievers agreed with Morgan’s argument. In May of 20018, Judge Gievers ruled that Floridians had the right to use medical cannabis treatment recommended by their physicians, which includes smoking marijuana in private places.
That same day, the Florida Department of Health filed an appeal in the federal court in Tallahassee. They argued that Judge Gievers’ verdict goes against the intent of the Florida legislature, which called smoking marijuana a health risk. In other words, the appeal effectively blocked Judge Grievers’ ruling from going into effect.
However, the new governor’s administration seems to side with Morgan’s push against what he calls “unconstitutional” restrictions.
Governor DeSantis says he stands by voters
On Monday, March 18 the new Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill that removed the ban on the sale of cannabis flowers. DeSantis has actually been pushing for the legislature to pass a law lifting the ban ever since the campaign trail last year. He even voiced support to the argument that the prohibition of smokable medical marijuana was in violation of the voters’ will, and thus the state’s constitution. In a tweet, DeSantis states:
“Over 70% of Florida voters approved medical marijuana in 2016. I thank my colleagues in the Legislature for working with me to ensure the will of the voters is upheld.”
DeSantis said that because of the change to state law, Florida will not follow through with the appeal against the court’s ruling. He also tweeted:
“Now that we have honored our duty to find a legislative solution, I have honored my commitment and filed a joint motion to dismiss the state’s appeal and to vacate the lower court decision which had held the prior law to be unconstitutional.”
Therefore, after revoking the appeal, the original ruling of John Morgan’s lawsuit stands. The ban against smoking medical marijuana is now considered a violation of the Florida constitution.
According to local news, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said this is a victory for voters who had come out in favor of medical marijuana. Fried states,
“It’s a triumph owed to the relentless advocacy of Floridians who refused to be silenced. Our state must not disregard the voice of its people—when the people’s will is nullified by those with authority, liberty cannot survive.”
Smoking medical marijuana already in effect
The new law took effect immediately. The new law took effect immediately. Accordingly, medical cannabis patients over 18 years old will be able to access 2.5 ounces of marijuana every 35 days.
However, it will take some time for the Florida health department to set standards for prescribing smokable marijuana. Still, at least one medical marijuana patient in Florida was able to purchase marijuana flower by Thursday.
Doug Dixon, 59, was the first patient to make a legal purchase of smokable medical marijuana in Florida this week. Dixon seems to feel this is a better alternative treatment compared to pharmaceuticals. He states,
“I didn’t know if I would ever see it in my time. But it is good to see it. It is good to have the alternative. These pharmaceuticals are killing people. I have lost so many family members.’’
And Dixon is not alone in his preference of cannabis over prescription pills. In a recent study, researchers looked at the difference between annual drug doses prescribed per physician in medical marijuana states versus states without medical marijuana. The findings are pretty significant. For states with medicinal cannabis, the study noted:
- Pain medications- 1,826 fewer doses
- Anxiety medications- 562 fewer doses
- Nausea medications- 541 fewer doses
- Psychosis medications- 519 fewer doses
- Seizure medications- 486 fewer doses
- Sleep disorder drugs- 362 fewer doses
- Depression medications- 265 fewer doses
- Spasticity drugs- 32 fewer doses
- Glaucoma medications- 35 more doses
Looking at this data, it would appear there is a growing population of people who actually trust alternative medicine like medicinal marijuana more than Big Pharma. Some even insist that treatment programs should utilize medical cannabis to treat opioid use disorder.
However, with this new perspective on the potential benefits of marijuana, we also have to be honest and open to discussing the possible harms as well. After all, it is still a mood and mind altering substance. Therefore, those who struggle with substance abuse can easily develop a problem concerning cannabis.
Marijuana Abuse Treatment
According to recent data, approximately 4 million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for marijuana use disorder in 2015. In the past four years, several new laws have made marijuana use legal in new parts of the country. Therefore, these numbers have surely increased over time. Even with the medical benefits, it is still important to know the risks.
You may not think addiction to marijuana is dangerous, but it can have lasting effects on both your health and the quality of your life. Marijuana use disorder is often characterized by the harmful consequences of repeated cannabis use. Even if marijuana is not as dangerous as heroin or other illicit drugs, it can still contribute to harmful behavior and serious health issues.