Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding that in the absence of state regulations, Tampa’s Joe Redner is legally entitled to grow his own pot for medical use. The ruling applies only to Redner, who has lung cancer. But it’s a victory for medical marijuana patients and their advocates who should not have to wait for a stubborn bureaucracy to get access to medical care that the Florida Constitution allows.
Medical marijuana passed in 2016 with 71 percent of the vote, despite little support and some outright opposition from the state’s elected officials. The Legislature showed no urgency in writing a law to implement the amendment, needing a special session to get it done. Now the foot-dragging is at the Department of Health, which missed its own deadline for creating regulations for patients, doctors and suppliers as prescribed by the amendment. The state’s nearly 100,000 qualifying patients have a difficult time accessing the drug; there are not enough doctors licensed to give marijuana authorizations; and the backlog of applications, for patient ID cards, doctors’ certifications and dispensary licenses, is mounting. It’s hard not to see the gridlock as deliberate.
That procrastination has cost the state a round in court, as Leon Circuit Judge Karen Gievers cited the lack of any guiding regulations in finding for Redner, the well-known and politically active strip club owner. Redner, a 77-year-old vegan, is recovering from lung cancer and uses marijuana in an emulsified juice form, as advised by his doctor, to help keep the disease in remission. Juicing uses the pulp of marijuana plants, which are not sold in state-licensed dispensaries.