Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed medical marijuana legislation this week that promises to provide medical marijuana to the seriously ill. But chances are it never will.
That’s because Senate Bill 1030, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, is so restrictive that it will likely never be fully implemented.
As enacted, the measure permits qualified patients to only consume cannabis that contains 0.8 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol and more than 10 percent of cannabidiol – a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis that has demonstrated a variety of therapeutic effects in animals but has rarely been studied in humans. The law further specifies that the “medical use” of low-THC cannabis  “does not include the possession, use, or administration by smoking.” Rather, the law suggests that qualified patients only ingest cannabis via vaporizers, oils, or pills.
In order to legally participate in Florida’s nascent medical marijuana program, patients must be diagnosed with either cancer or a “physical medical condition that chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms” -- and their doctor must attest that they have previously tried all other known conventional remedies to treat their condition. Patients under the age of 18 must meet similar criteria, but also find a second doctor willing to concur with their primary care physician’s recommendation for cannabis therapy. As for Sunshine State patients suffering from other diseases that may be alleviated by cannabis, such as HIV, Crohn’s, or chronic pain, they need not apply.
The law similarly imposes onerous restrictions in regard to who can legally recommend cannabis. Recommending physician must first complete state-sponsored educational training and pass a subsequent examination before they can legally discuss cannabis therapy with their patients. Further, any doctor recommending cannabis must also  “maintain a patient treatment plan that includes the dose, route of administration, planned duration, and monitoring of the patient’s symptoms and other indicators of tolerance or reaction to the low-THC cannabis.”
Yet, it is the regulations governing who may legally grow and provide cannabis that remain the most problematic. Under the law, only state-licensed providers may legally cultivate high-CBD cannabis. In order to apply for a license, would-be providers must establish that they have been operating as a registered Florida nursery for 30 consecutive years and, further, they must also possess a state certificate indicating that they are eligible to grow some 400,000 plants at any one time. In addition, those who wish to legally dispense cannabis under the law, which calls for the creation of five such state-licensed facilities, must post a $5 million performance bond with the state.
It remains to be seen whether any would be cultivators or providers will be eligible to apply under these rules. It remains equally questionable whether any would be cultivators or providers will actually want to apply to participate in a program that likely will have few, if any, actual patients.
Fortunately, a resolution to Florida’s unworkable medical cannabis law is in sight. This November, Sunshine State voters will decide on Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment that seeks to authorize doctors to use their discretion to recommend cannabis therapy to their patients and is presently supported by 88 percent of all Floridians.