In November, voters in Florida approved Amendment 2, the Florida Medical Marijuana Legislation Initiative. More than 71 percent of the state’s voters agreed to approve the initiative. Only two years earlier, a similar measure had been narrowly defeated. Amendment 2 will allow doctors in Florida to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes to patients struggling with HIV, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Chron’s disease, and a number of other medical conditions.
The Associated Press has reported that four firms – so far – have been approved by the state to handle medical marijuana. They will operate dispensaries in Tallahassee, Tampa, Clearwater, and Miami-Dade County. But precisely how patients will gain access to medical cannabis in Florida still remains a murky question. Some Florida counties and municipalities are putting at least a temporary hold on the certification of new dispensaries. The Florida Department of Health, according to the Miami Herald, is only now beginning to create the regulations that will govern medical marijuana in Florida. Those regulations must be issued by July 2017.
The establishment of marijuana dispensaries across the state is important, not only to make the medicine available to patients, but because dispensary personnel will provide patients with a pharmacist’s advice and guidance. Richard Young, the CEO of Modern Health Concepts, told the Herald, “We want to be treated as a pharmacy because we’re dispensing medicine” that could help thousands of Floridians ease their ailments.
WHAT QUESTIONS ABOUT LEGAL POT STILL NEED ANSWERS?
Lawmakers and the Department of Health have plenty of work ahead and plenty of questions to resolve. Should marijuana dispensaries be a particular distance from parks, schools, and community centers? Should a person with a criminal record be allowed to own or manage a marijuana dispensary? The answers to these questions are going to mean someone gains or loses a great deal of money, because a report by New Frontier Data estimates that the value of Florida’s medical cannabis industry will exceed $1.6 billion in just four years.
The rules for growing and selling medical marijuana will also need additional clarity. “The Legislature has to come together in 2017 and really fill in the details and define the many, many variables that exist within the model of legalization that was provided by Amendment 2,” says Florida business attorney Richard Blau, who also notes that it’s not even clear how medical cannabis will be taxed. “How do you tax it? Is it an ad valorem [property] tax? Is it an excise tax? Is it a sales tax? Is it in fact multiple sales taxes?” Blau asks. “Will communities levy additional taxes on top of state taxes the way they do it with alcohol?”
The actual legalization of pot for medical purposes in Florida will go into effect on January 3, 2017. Beginning on that date, medicinal marijuana may be legally purchased in Florida by anyone with a permission classification order from a physician. State Senator Rob Bradley of Fleming Island told the Florida Times-Union that Florida lawmakers have been preparing for legalized medical marijuana since at least 2014. “As a state, we are prepared to implement Amendment 2,” Bradley said. “What I see Amendment 2 doing is expanding the scope of individuals who are eligible to use medical cannabis.”
UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS CAN DOCTORS PRESCRIBE MARIJUANA?
Patients who are approved for a medical marijuana prescription will have to travel to a dispensary or arrange for a home delivery. While patients suffering from a dozen or so different medical conditions will be eligible for marijuana prescriptions, Amendment 2 also allows marijuana prescriptions for those who suffer “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”
The idea that pot will be sold in commercial dispensaries already has several Florida jurisdictions establishing moratoriums on medical marijuana sales. Green Cove Springs, Jacksonville Beach, and Orange Park will enforce a one-year moratorium. Clay County commissioners are also considering a moratorium. Activist Ben Pollara of United For Care, a pro-legalization group that supported Amendment 2, told the Florida Times-Union, “I’m OK with that, so long as the moratorium is at least an opening to having a deliberate, measured conversation about how to do this the right way. I’m fine with cities taking a step back.”
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT PENALTIES FOR MARIJUANA POSSESSION?
Of course, if you don’t have a doctor’s prescription, the possession of marijuana remains a crime in Florida, and anyone who faces a criminal marijuana possession charge in South Florida will need the advice and services of an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney. The possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis is a misdemeanor in Florida. A conviction is punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000.
The possession of more than 20 grams but less than 25 pounds of marijuana is still a felony in the state of Florida. A conviction is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. The possession of 25 to 2,000 pounds of marijuana is also a felony in this state. A conviction is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
The sale or delivery of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, college, park, or other specified areas remains a felony in Florida, and a conviction is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Driving under the influence of marijuana is legally the same as driving under the influence of alcohol – same charge, same penalty if convicted. And if you are an immigrant in Florida, a conviction for a marijuana crime can make you eligible for deportation.
If you face any marijuana-related criminal charge in South Florida, arrange at once to consult with an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney. As the state prepares for the legality of medical marijuana, if you do not have a prescription for medical marijuana, and if you are charged with marijuana possession, sale, or any related offense, you’re going to need experienced legal help fast. Pot users can expect heightened enforcement of Florida’s pot laws in 2017 because authorities will want to make it absolutely clear that marijuana remains against the law for those without a prescription.