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What’s the Deal With Florida’s ‘Dispensaries’?

September 23, 2016
Miami Skyline - view from Plane
Florida’s 20 million residents may be forgiven if they’re confused about the upcoming vote on Amendment 2, which would legalize medical cannabis. Didn’t they recently see headlines announcing “Florida Opens First Dispensary”?

They did (see the headlines). And they didn’t (open an actual dispensary).

Technically, Florida medical marijuana “dispensaries” do exist. Also technically, what they offer is hemp oil. That’s not an exaggeration.

Florida voters expressed their desire for medical cannabis with 57.6 percent approval (but not passage) of medical legalization in late 2014. Heeding that vote, state legislators attempted to craft a medical marijuana bill in Tallahassee. The best they could do, however, was the deceptively named Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, which offered no medical marijuana at all. What it allowed was, quite literally, hemp oil.

The act allowed exactly six licensed Florida companies to manufacture and sell “low-THC cannabis,” which is defined as containing 0.8 percent or less of THC, and 10 percent or more of CBD.


CBD vs. THC: What’s the difference?

Let’s put that into context. The federal government and most states define industrial hemp (non-intoxicating cannabis) as a product containing no more than 0.3 percent THC. West Virginia actually considers cannabis with less than 1.0 percent THC to be hemp, so the strictly controlled medicine allowed to a small number Florida patients would actually be categorized as hemp in the Mountain State.

In fact, the “low-THC cannabis” strictly regulated by the state of Florida is currently sold openly nationwide over the internet. Earlier this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested CBD-rich hemp oil products sold by legal websites. FDA researchers found four products that would qualify as “medical marijuana” under Florida’s current regulations:

Florida medical marijuana products - hemp oil

Source: U.S. Food & Drug Administration, “2016 Warning Letters and Test Results for Cannabidiol-Related Products.”

Okay, to be fair: Two would qualify and two would be judgment calls, depending on whether Florida state officials measure THC content to the tenth of a percentage, or to the hundredth.

To qualify for permission to receive this hemp oil, a Florida patient must receive permission from a specially licensed physician. To be licensed, a physician must pass an exam after investing 8 hours in a special medical marijuana training program. (No such requirement exists for doctors who prescribe opioids.) Only patients who have cancer or an intractable seizure condition, such as severe epilepsy, may qualify. Patients under 18 must receive permission from two MMJ-licensed physicians. 

You can obtain normal cannabis in Florida. But only if you're about to die.

Last year the Legislature added another qualifying condition. Patients with a documented terminal illness may now receive medical marijuana with more than 0.8 percent THC. Only patients who are expected to die within 12 months qualify for this special exemption. In other words, if you’re nearly dead and have no expectation to survive, Florida law will allow you to obtain the same cannabis that’s legal in 25 other medical states. But first you have to have a physician swear on paper that you are absolutely going to die. Soon.

This is why medical cannabis advocates are working hard to pass Amendment 2: The state’s current “medical marijuana” program is not a medical marijuana program at all. Many growers in the current program—I’ve met some of them—are sincerely trying to help. They may eventually become the foundational cannabis farmers in a robust Amendment 2 program. But right now they’re bound by the ridiculous strictures created by state legislators, who established a cruel hoax that mocks thousands of Florida patients who sincerely need help.

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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  • Diab

    I was diagnosed with Systemic Sclerosis (scleroderma) /SS terminal, and was put on so much prescription medicine it made me even sicker.
    Truth is I was told quite bluntly that I had two years to live and it wasn’t going to be a good two years.
    I took the anti organ rejection drugs and the strong pain killers and was put in a vegetative state.
    Cold weather can kill me in minutes so I moved from Ohio to Florida which eventually helped after acclimating.
    I started vapeing CBD oils and found a hook up for high grade weed or (Kill) as its called up in Ohio.
    Instantly started feeling better from the THC but the CBD oil was the best part.
    You don’t get a buzz from CBD and it shows no evidence of any attributes while smoking it. But after a couple weeks of using it (in conjunction w/ THC ), I was shocked at how much easier things started getting. From just standing up to getting in the car and even picking a dime up off the ground I can do it now. I couldn’t do those things and I can say without a doubt that CBD oils and THC products are the real deal.
    Now , I do still take meds and I get a blood infusion two days a month (which sucks ass bad) , but my meds went from 15 pills to 3 a day and that’s good news for the kidney and liver and stomach.
    Pharms destroy those organs over time.
    Now, Florida , Tampa specifically, is boasting 13 new dispensaries which may be true but 10 of them sit closed and are waiting for the vote to open them up. The other 3 are struggling with 1 that’s closing due to lack of sales. Which is sad because the owner is a nice old man and is trying to hold out. Most of these shops are on Busch Blvd. they run all the way up to Busch Gardens Tampa. Wouldn’t that be nice? Yes.
    With the vote coming up Ammendment 2 is expected to pass with a whopping 74% yes votes. But, there’s a snake in the field and its slithering to thwart any measures to legalize marijuana completely.
    So my two years life expectancy diagnosis was 8 years ago and I’m one of the 18% survivors of an extremely rare disease that doctors no very little about.
    So here’s a clue use me as a reason to get anyone with SSc on CBD and Edible THC . It actually works. And has improved my quality of life greatly. Plus, get them out of the cold! We don’t like cold.

  • Corey Schweiger

    Prop 2 will be on the ballot this election year. So let you Florida friends know. Hope it will pass this time, the group No on 2 are well funded and full of shit. YES ON 2 Please.

    • Moldavian_Bot_Farm

      We won it, but it looks like we may have to make it an election issue in 2018 for the politicians who continue to obstruct implementation of Amendment 2.