The Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use is overwhelmed with potential patients’ applications for medical marijuana cards. Hurricane Irma certainly did not help as the huge storms will typically setback Florida for a few weeks no matter the business. However, the Office of Marijuana Use is understaffed and underfunded by the state for as large as the industry is becoming. There are some patients reporting they have had to wait three months after submitting in their payments to the Department of Health.
It is important for patients that want to speed up the process, that they follow the states protocols for applying exactly. The Office of Medical Marijuana Use requires patients to register on the Medical Marijuana Use Registry website and there patients will find a detailed explanation of what they need to process applications. If you would like to find out more about Florida’s medical marijuana program, please click here.
Would-be medical marijuana users in Florida say they’re waiting as long as three months to get state-issued cards they need to get the drug.
The state agency that gives out the cards is hiring more workers to cut down on wait times.
Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use says it should take about 30 days after patients apply for a medical marijuana card for them to receive one.
And for some, that’s true. But some patients describe waiting two or even three times longer to get the cards.
“I mailed my $75 payment on July 19, received an email stating that my card was on the way on Sept. 18, and I still have not received the card,” said Adam McWilliams, of Jacksonville, who takes medical marijuana for anxiety and pain.
He called his dealings with the state medical marijuana office “the most frustrating experience of my life.”
Hundreds of doctors in Florida are now certified to recommend medical marijuana for patients, and one of the biggest concentrations is in South Florida.
Anxiety is not specifically covered by the medical marijuana law, and pain must be the result of one of the listed conditions that qualifies.
But the law allows for ailments of a “similar kind or class” as the qualifying diseases that are listed in the constitutional amendment voters approved in November 2016.
One of those ailments is post-traumatic stress disorder, and so some doctors are writing recommendations for medical marijuana for people with other anxiety disorders.
But even some people with diseases that directly qualify for medical marijuana say they have had a hard time.
Lauren Drake, of Milton, said she has been working with her 72-year-old father to get his medical marijuana card.
He has stage 4 prostate cancer that has spread to his bones and lymph nodes, she said.
He applied Aug. 15 and received an email explaining that his card was on the way Oct. 5, she said. But Drake said it still has not arrived.
“I thought they had their stuff together,” she said.
The medical marijuana industry officially has its guidelines with the passage of a bill out of the Florida Legislature on the last day of a three-day special session.
While maintaining there is “about a 30-day wait cycle” for medical marijuana cards, Office of Medical Marijuana Use Executive Director Christian Bax recognized that even that wait time needed to be scaled back.
“We are doing everything we can right now to crank these cards out because we know there are patients in very difficult medical situations, and we do not want to be the bottleneck,” Bax said in an appearance before a Florida Senate committee Wednesday.
The office is currently in negotiations to outsource production of the cards to a private company, Bax said.
That, plus implementing electronic payment of the $75 card fee and electronic transfer of the patient photo used on the ID, will all speed up the process.
New hires also will help things along. This year’s state budget approved 28 new hires for the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which had hired 11 of them as of Wednesday, according to Bax. Previous to the new state budget, there were just three employees processing applications for the tens of thousands of medical marijuana patients in the state.
Not all of the wait times are months long, according to the Compassionate Cannabis Clinic.
The Venice-based business, which calls itself the largest cannabis clinic in Florida, conducted a survey of 170 patients in October. Of those surveyed:
— 57 reported waiting for a card four to six weeks.
— 54 reported waiting six to eight weeks.
— 12 said they got their card in under a month.
— The remaining 47 did not answer the question.
“It’s a bare minimum of 30 days. Most of them are waiting up toward 40 or 50 days,” said Ivan Field, CEO of Marijuana Doctor, a chain of clinics with five locations in South Florida.
Combined, the Marijuana Doctor clinics have about 1,000 patients statewide.
“When you get sick and you go to a doctor and they write up a prescription for you, you go right to the drug store and get your medicine,” Field said. “Here, it’s just unacceptable. We had a patient die, a cancer patient, waiting for their medicine.”
And Field isn’t alone in reporting deaths among those waiting for medical marijuana.
Kelly Milligan, a consultant to a company that produces noneuphoric marijuana oil, had a client come to her after being on the wait list for over two months. The woman had stage 4 colon cancer.
“It was going into the third month when they found me,” Milligan said. “I think the card finally came after she passed away.”
Hurricane Irma may have contributed to longer wait times, Milligan said. “It’s definitely taking 60 days, sometimes 90,” Milligan said.
Those who live with chronic conditions who could be helped by marijuana say they are frustrated they cannot get access to marijuana despite a constitutional guarantee that 71 percent of Florida voters approved in 2016.
“It is uncalled for to pay $75 to be ignored by the state agency,” said Jamie Hullenbaugh, of Pensacola, who said she sent in an application for a card Aug. 22 and still has not received one.
“Then there is the wait, which wouldn’t happen for someone getting their heart medication, but seizures can wait.”