Florida voters approve expansion of legal medical marijuana program

Ballot initiative receives overwhelming support.

On January 3, 2017, a popular amendment to the Florida Constitution takes effect that will greatly expand the legal use of medicinal marijuana. Amendment 2 was approved by state voters in the November 2016 election with about 71 percent of votes cast on the measure, reports the Florida Division of Elections.

According to the Florida Department of Health, close to a half-million patients in the state may qualify for treatment under the new law in its first year. By contrast, there are fewer than 1,000 patients using the current state medical marijuana program, reports the Miami Herald.

Careful compliance important

In light of the upcoming expansion of medical marijuana, those in the Sunshine State must remember to carefully comply with the law because any other possession or use of the drug could subject the person to criminal drug charges such as possession, production or use. In addition, driving or boating under the influence of marijuana will still be illegal even for authorized patients.

State marijuana crimes still carry severe penalties so anyone investigated for or charged with a state drug crime should seek immediate legal advice and representation from a criminal defense lawyer. In addition, marijuana is still an illegal Schedule I drug under federal law. While the Obama administration has not asserted the federal criminality of marijuana in light of some states legalizing it for medicinal and in some cases recreational purposes, it is not known whether prosecutions could begin under the Trump administration.

Current Florida medicinal marijuana law

Since June 16, 2014, qualified Florida doctors have been able to legally prescribe for compassionate use low-THC and medical cannabis not administered by smoking for a narrow group of patients: those with cancer or physical medical conditions that cause seizure symptoms or severe, persistent muscle spasms, or symptoms of those conditions.

Amendment 2's provisions

The new law will allow more ways to use marijuana medicinally, including smoking. Certified physicians will be able to prescribe it to a wider group of patients, namely those with "debilitating medical conditions," including:

  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD
  • ALS
  • Crohn's disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis or MS

A patient with a similar condition to these named diseases would also qualify if a certified doctor believes medicinal marijuana would be more likely to help than to introduce health risks.

This is a general introduction to a complicated new law. Anyone with questions about compliance should seek legal advice. Any patient, qualified caregiver, dispensary or medical marijuana treatment center owner or employee, or physician facing investigation for violation of the law or even criminal charges should speak with an attorney immediately to protect his or her legal rights and plan for a vigorous defense.

Lawyer Stan Peacock of the Panama City law firm Stanley E. Peacock, P.A., vigorously defends clients in North Florida accused of drug crimes.