Medical marijuana may be legal, but patients still go without in Florida

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Medical marijuana may be legal, but patients still go without in Florida

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 supply.

“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 delays.

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 law.”

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


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