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Health Officials Face Criticism Over Medical Cannabis Rules

US Fish and Wildlife Service via wikimedia commons
Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service via wikimedia commons

The Department of Health spent a week touring the state to get feedback on their draft rule for Amendment Two.  The department’s cautious approach for implementing the medical cannabis initiative is raising the ire of would be patients.

The Department of Health is mulling how to move forward and what changes to make in its proposals for medical cannabis.  And the drafters probably have a lot to think about.

“You are the Office of Compassionate Use,” Josephine Canella-Krehl said in Tallahassee. 

“We are the 71.3 percent.  Hear.  Us.  Roar.”

She’s invoking Amendment Two’s support at the polls and voicing a sentiment that resounded throughout the week.  In meetings around the state patients, doctors and activists have criticized the department’s proposed rule.  The regulation is a first draft—incorporating the new constitutional provisions within the existing statutory framework.  

But to attorney Stephanie Alexander that’s simply not good enough.  She points to a provision tasking the state board of medicine with defining “debilitating conditions”

“I do not believe that since this is a constitutional provision,” she said, “and that the formal rulemaking power has been delegated specifically to the Department of Health, I do not believe you have the power to re-delegate that to the board of medicine.”

While some commenters raised concerns about the rule’s legal foundation, others took issue with its posture.  After the vast majority of voters approved a new amendment, a rule offering little to no change seems like a betrayal.  

Lauren Drake is a former police officer from Milton, Florida.  She’s since left the force and advocates for medical cannabis.  She held up two photos and asked which person was on illegal drugs.

Lauren Drake
Credit Nick Evans
Lauren Drake

“This person right here?” she said pointing to the person on the right, “All legally prescribed narcotics, benzos up to about 15 to 20 different pharmaceuticals.  They were all legally obtained for migraines—chronic migraines and IBS.” 

“Picture on the left—this picture that’s on my left?  That’s medical marijuana.  Both of these pictures are of me.”

Bill Cody is a disabled vet.  A helicopter crash in Afghanistan broke his back in 2002, and he believes a state-mandated waiting period does a disservice to Florida’s service members.

“Your attempt to dictate the doctor patient relationship harms veterans,” Cody says.  “Veterans don’t need to go through a 90-day waiting period they should be able to walk into a certifying physician’s office with their medical records and in one visit receive their recommendation.”

But the department is in a tricky position.  Lawmakers can—and probably will—step in with legislation that supersedes the rule.  The problem is the department has a deadline, and it’s not clear what the new legal framework will look like.  Office of Compassionate Use director Christian Bax admits it’s a challenging proposition. 

“It’s certainly not easy,” he says, “but we believe that we can fulfill those deadlines.  We certainly respect that it’s the prerogative of the Legislature to pass laws to implement a constitutional amendment.  We will respect any legislation that they pass and is signed by the governor and becomes effective.”

The department has until early July to complete its rules—slightly less than sixty days after the legislative session concludes.  If all goes well—if the proposal doesn’t get bogged down in challenges—the department can meet that deadline.  But if recent history is any guide that’s unlikely to happen.  Regulators have other arrows in the quiver, for instance a 90-day emergency rule.  But if their plans prove contentious, medical cannabis supporters could be in for a long wait.  

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.