Pubdate: Sun, 15 Apr 2018
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2018 The Tribune Co.


Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved
medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic
illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there
is a price for that obstruction, finding that in the absence of state
regulations, Tampa's Joe Redner is legally entitled to grow his own
pot for medical use. The ruling applies only to Redner, who has lung
cancer. But it's a victory for medical marijuana patients and their
advocates who should not have to wait for a stubborn bureaucracy to
get access to medical care that the Florida Constitution allows.

Medical marijuana passed in 2016 with 71 percent of the vote, despite
little support and some outright opposition from the state's elected
officials. The Legislature showed no urgency in writing a law to
implement the amendment, needing a special session to get it done. Now
the foot-dragging is at the Department of Health, which missed its own
deadline for creating regulations for patients, doctors and suppliers
as prescribed by the amendment. The state's nearly 100,000 qualifying
patients have a difficult time accessing the drug; there are not
enough doctors licensed to give marijuana authorizations; and the
backlog of applications, for patient ID cards, doctors' certifications
and dispensary licenses, is mounting. It's hard not to see the
gridlock as deliberate.

That procrastination has cost the state a round in court, as Leon
Circuit Judge Karen Gievers cited the lack of any guiding regulations
in finding for Redner, the well-known and politically active strip
club owner. Redner, a 77-year-old vegan, is recovering from lung
cancer and uses marijuana in an emulsified juice form, as advised by
his doctor, to help keep the disease in remission. Juicing uses the
pulp of marijuana plants, which are not sold in state-licensed
dispensaries. Redner sued over the Department of Health's contention
that the Florida Constitution prohibits him from growing his own
cannabis for personal use.

The department would be hard-pressed to point to any such prohibition
in the text of the Constitution -- it's not there. "Nothing in the
Amendment authorizes the Department of Health (or any other part of
Florida's government) to ignore the rights of qualifying patients to
access the medical marijuana treatment to which they are entitled
under the Florida Constitution, or to exclude any method by which
qualifying patients may take their medicine," the judge wrote. She
also pointed to the lack of a regulation defining a patient's
"adequate supply" in blessing the daily 8 ounces of emulsified
marijuana that Redner's doctor recommends. Though the ruling is under
a stay as the state appeals, it does say that Redner is allowed to
grow his own medical pot.

The court order does not fling open the doors for any patient in
Florida to start a cannabis crop, but state regulators should take the
decision as a wake-up call that their failure to faithfully enact a
voter-approved amendment has consequences. The next battlefront is a
lawsuit brought by Orlando attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled the
amendment drive and challenges a ban on smokable marijuana in state
law. Morgan claims the provision is unconstitutional; indeed, nowhere
does the Constitution ban patients from smoking marijuana for medical

Gievers wrote that the Department of Health's role in helping
Floridians suffering from chronic illness is to "ensure the
availability and safe use of medical marijuana by qualifying
patients." Instead, the state has delayed making the drug easily
available and arbitrarily tried to limit the ways patients can access
it and the forms it can take. The foot-dragging is an affront to
Floridians who voted overwhelmingly in favor of medical marijuana and
a cruelty toward patients in pain. Joe Redner's victory in court
heralds that the state's stalling won't work much longer.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt