Here's Proof Getting Medical Marijuana in Florida Is Becoming Easier

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When 62-year-old cancer survivor Jer Valentino set out to obtain his medical marijuana card, the Naples, Florida, resident had to wait two weeks to even see a doctor. Another three months and several hundred dollars later, he finally had the pot he needed to treat the insomnia and fatigue brought on by his cancer.

At the time — not long after passage of Florida's 2016 Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, or Amendment 2 — only a handful of doctors were certified to prescribe pot.

“It’s too many hurdles for people to go through, especially for very, very sick people,” says Valentino, who commutes around 90 minutes each way to see his doctor in Venice whenever he needs to renew his prescription. “The whole process was disappointing — not necessarily with the doctors, but the foot-dragging.”

More recently, things have improved, although the process is still slow. Dispensing locations have grown from around six in spring 2017 to more than 80 today, and as of last week, there were more than 2,000 doctors licensed to order medical marijuana for Florida’s nearly 200,000 active, registered patients. But squabbles among legislators and bureaucrats have kept things slower than necessary.

“It’s an arduous process with the state,” says Bill, a 66-year-old medical marijuana patient from Estero, south of Fort Myers. After waiting around three months to receive his card from the Department of Health early in the pot process, Bill traveled five hours round-trip to Clearwater whenever he needed to refill his prescription. Now he can pay an extra $25 for delivery service from a newly opened Truelieve dispensary in North Fort Myers.

Interestingly, Bill was coached by his doctor. He initially planned to ask for a card based on tremors. But the physician determined it would be easier to get approval for diabetes, which Bill also suffers and which is a qualifying condition. So he applied under that and it worked.

An even more striking case of coaching is that of a Miami shop owner who asked to be identified only as patient X. The woman, who is in her 30s, brought a decade's worth of medical records documenting her chronic back pain to her doctor's visit. But the physician, she says, told her it would be "easier" if she said she was suffering from PTSD. "They kind of just told me what to say. And really, anything in life can apply. If you've had a loved one pass, you can use that," she says. "I would have preferred to not use something like that. I would have preferred to just say this is what helps me in life. But if they're gonna play the game, then I'll play the game too."

She waited only eight days for her card in December 2018 before going shopping in her hometown, which currently boasts nine medical marijuana dispensaries.

Another reason things have sped up is bureaucratic, says Ben Pollara, political consultant and campaign manager for Florida’s medical marijuana United for Care campaign. "The Department of Health got their asses handed to them by the Legislature in the 2018 election,"  he says. "They were reporting an average of a month [to process a medical marijuana card application], but people that I talked to said it was taking eight to ten weeks."

Now, according to the latest update from the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, the processing time is five days for a complete application and five days for ID card printing, although patients can go shopping as soon as they receive the email confirming they're registered.

While access has improved, there are still issues. For Bill, it's a lack of help at the dispensary.  "They don’t lead you one way or another" when it comes to recommending specific products and dosages tailored to your needs, he says. "If you try to ask any questions, they’re not gonna tell you anything. You’re kinda left to your own devices."  

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