HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Medical Marijuana May Be Legal, But Patients Still Go Without
Pubdate: Sat, 10 Feb 2018
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2018 The Tribune Co.
Author: Elizabeth Koh



Seth and Danielle Hyman with their daughter Rebecca 8, of Weston, are
seeking to have a strain of marijuana legalized to help prevent
seizures in their daughter, Rebecca, in 2014. Despite the legalization
of medical marijuana, Seth Hyman said the drug is still difficult to
get for is daughter. [Miami Herald]

When Seth Hyman first began to buy medical marijuana in Florida for
his 12-year-old daughter last year, he hoped it would be the answer to
fixing her life-threatening seizures.

A genetic disorder means Rebecca, who cannot walk or speak, had about
a hundred seizures daily, from a few seconds to a few minutes long.
But the Weston father, who began lobbying the legislature in 2014 when
it passed an initial bill legalizing a limited form of medical
marijuana, said the family faced hurdles even after Rebecca was
approved to obtain the drug.

A limited number of growers has meant fewer varieties they can test to
try managing Rebecca's condition, and she still has around 50 seizures
a day, Hyman said. Even the varieties that are available are in low

"With the current system, you're very limited to the strains of
product that are available," said Hyman, who has been hired by a law
firm specializing in medical marijuana cases. "Some patients can't
even get their medicine."

Months after the legislature passed a law enacting a constitutional
amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana, patients say they
are hampered by delayed regulations yet to be implemented by state
health officials. The Department of Health's Office of Medical
Marijuana Use, which is devising and implementing rules to implement
the law, has blamed administrative challenges and lawsuits for the

In recent weeks, lawmakers have become especially dissatisfied with
those explanations. After a series of deadlines were missed and
letters objecting to some rules went unanswered for months, lead
legislators have called the office's behavior disrespectful and are
discussing yanking funds from the department as they assemble the
state's budget in the next four weeks.

But particularly frustrated are the patients' parents, who lobbied the
legislature for years to legalize medical marijuana in the first place.

"I'm certainly happy to see the legislature really, truly apply some
pressure," said political consultant Ben Pollara, who led the group
behind the 2016 constitutional amendment. "Patients would like it,
too. What they would like more is for [the department] to apply the

When applications for identification cards to obtain medical marijuana
were first opened, delays stretched for months at a time, Hyman said.
"I know patients who had to wait 90 days-plus to get their card, or
patients who waited 60 days and finally got an answer saying, 'Oh,
your picture's wrong,'" he remembered.

Lawmakers have been asking for answers from the Department of Health
regarding those delays, and since October, a joint legislative
committee has sent more than a dozen letters objecting to rules on
issues ranging from medical marijuana licenses to caregivers' ID cards.

But the office did not respond to the letters until last Friday, when
the Department of Health's general counsel wrote that the committee's
objections might cause more delays.

Legislators were particularly incensed by that letter at a joint
committee meeting last week. Christian Bax, the agency's head, sat
mute while its members voted unanimously to object to some of its
emergency rules.

Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, a committee chair, called the lack
of responsiveness insulting and told reporters that the Legislature
should consider targeting the office's funding.

Legislators have already begun making moves to flex their spending
muscle. Last week, Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, pushed an amendment
in the House budget to freeze $2.1 million in salary and funds at the
Department of Health. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming, the powerful
chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he agreed with
the measure and added Wednesday that legislators were considering
using "the power of the purse" to respond to the Department of
Health's inaction.

Department spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said the agency is working
toward implementing all required regulations and that it plans to
respond to legislators' concerns.

"There is access to medical marijuana right now," she said. "Patients
are receiving medication, and every day we continue to process new
applications... . Those parts and pieces are moving simultaneous to
the rule-making progress we're making."

But the department is responsible for implementing those rules in a
timely fashion, Pollara said. In the meantime, "the patients are the
ones who are taking this on the chin."

Some parents have already taken matters into their own hands. Moriah
Barnhart, who helped push for medical marijuana after her daughter,
Dahlia, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, said even though the
application process has been open for months, she is still getting her
daughter's medical marijuana from out of state and has not applied for
a card.

"I've never gotten a legal product from the state of Florida," said
Barnhart, citing the long wait time and cost of a card. "We really
don't have the means to obtain the meds Dahlia needs regularly."

Barnhart said the legal route, though it now exists, is still out of
reach for some who are too poor to afford the $75 identification card.
She said the costs of strains grown in Florida are also higher by
hundreds of dollars compared to those in other states, because of
fewer growers and lower supply.

If rules had been established more quickly, "we would have everything
- -- everything that was supposedly implemented to date would be
implemented," she said.

Florida, despite its successful legalization of medical marijuana,
still does not provide sufficient access, she added.

"As much as I wanted this to work out, we just need to admit we are
not where we are supposed to be."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt