Florida has become the 22nd state to authorize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Last spring, the Florida Legislature passed bills to make certain strains of marijuana legal for the purpose of treating patients with severe medical issues, such as seizures, muscle spasms, and cancer. In June of 2014, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law Senate Bill 1030, approving certain strains of marijuana for medical use and creating a legal system for producing, dispensing and studying the drug in Florida, as well as Senate Bill 1700, protecting the identities of the user-patients. The new Florida Marijuana law, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, is also referred to as “Charlotte’s Web” after the strain of marijuana it is named for.
As of January 1, 2015, authorized Florida doctors may begin writing prescriptions for authorized strains of marijuana. In order to be permitted under the law, the cultivated marijuana would have to contain less than 0.8 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and more than 10 percent CBD (cannabidiol). THC is compound in marijuana responsible for producing a “high.” CBD is a compound that treats seizures. The law is extremely strict, and provides that prescribed marijuana must be used as an extract, specifically a cannabis oil taken orally. No edible cannabis products, such as cookies, brownies, or candy, and no marijuana cigarettes are allowed under the law.
The January 1, 2015 deadline for the imposition of these new Florida Marijuana laws is fast approaching. The Charlotte’s Web law provides that the medical marijuana will be sold through dispensaries licensed by the Florida Department of Health. As such, Florida regulators are currently in hearings to discuss the implementation of law, and how and who will be permitted to cultivate and distribute the marijuana. While the draft rule calls for a “lottery” process, in which all nurseries could participate, several commentators have expressed concerns that a lottery may not be the best method to ensure the most qualified nurseries will produce the best product.
In order to be qualified as a nursery to grow marijuana under the new law, the nursery must be certified by the Florida Department of Health as capable of growing 400,000 or more plants and must have operated as a nursery in the state for 30 continuous years. Only 5 nurseries, one in each area of Florida (northwest, northeast, central, southwest, and southeast Florida), will be legally allowed to cultivate marijuana under the law. If a nursery is chosen to cultivate medical marijuana, the nursery must then obtain a license that will cost $150,000, and the grower must also then post a bond of 5 million dollars.
Although still prohibiting recreational use of marijuana in the State of Florida, an amendment pending on Florida’s November ballot, Amendment 2, would allow for much broader medical use of marijuana. Amendment 2 proposes legalizing marijuana for a wide range of conditions, including but not limited to: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or other conditions a doctor believes it likely that the benefit of the medical use of marijuana would outweigh the potential health risks. Additionally, the proposed amendment would allow for smoking marijuana, instead of solely permitting the ingestion of a cannabis oil.
The new Florida Medical Marijuana law does not authorize the private use or growing of marijuana. Further, recreational use of marijuana in Florida is still prohibited. This means that private use or possession of Marijuana will still be prosecuted as a violation of Florida Statute 893.13. Trafficking marijuana, cultivating marijuana, or having a hydroponic operation/grow house will still be prosecuted as a violation of Florida Statute 893.135. While possession of under 20 grams of marijuana constitutes a misdemeanor in the state of Florida, punishable by up to 1 year in the county jail, possession of 25 pounds of marijuana, or 300 or more marijuana plants constitutes a first degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in Florida State Prison.
Drug charges are serious, and are heavily prosecuted in the State of Florida. If you are facing marijuana charges, contact a knowledgeable attorney who can review your case and help guide you through the system.
Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.