Back on track with medical marijuana
Florida’s non-working, non-euphoric medical marijuana law, stalled since last summer, is back on track, following a decision last week by a state administrative law judge to throw out the latest legal challenge.
The Florida Department of Health now claims it could have the extract in the hands of patients by the end of 2015, but a potential supplier says spring 2016 would be much more likely.
Even though a patient would be unable to get high from it, the fact that it is made from cannabis plants has prompted the state to create some high thresholds, both for patients and for physicians.
“The good news is that the administrative law judge vested with the responsibility of considering challenges has put an end to those legal challenges,” said Richard Blau, who heads the regulated products group at the Florida law firm GrayRobinson.
Florida patients diagnosed with cancer, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or epilepsy may qualify for the patient registry to be created by the Health Department.
But first, they will have to find a physician who has taken the eight-hour online course that would enable him or her to write the prescription. So far only 30 or so physicians have taken the training, according to a list provided by the Health Department.
The cannabis extract and the dried flowers used to make them can contain no more than 0.8 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and more than 10 percent cannabidiol, or CBD.
THC is the organic compound in marijuana flowers that is most widely associated with “getting high,” and is also associated with pain relief. CBD is known mostly as an anti-inflammatory, but also has shown effectiveness in preventing or alleviating muscle spasms and seizures.
The 15% solution
Sarasota County-based AltMed LLC was working through a Tallahassee lobbyist to convince the legislators in the spring 2015 session to change the limits on these ingredients.
Lawmakers were close to getting an agreement at 15 percent THC when the Legislature descended into a budget crisis that is to be resolved through a special session, AltMed CEO David Wright said.
That would have made made the range of cannabis extracts much more useful to a much wider group of patients, including those with rheumatoid arthritis, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Wright said AltMed has not decided whether to proceed in applying for the license for Southwest Florida, one of five to be issued statewide.
“We’ve got some concerns about bringing a product to market that could create expectations that the product cannot live up to,” Wright said.
He gets some agreement on that from Craig Frank, chairman of the Florida Cannabis Industry Association, a Fort Lauderdale based trade association with 75 members.
“It doesn’t live up to the spirit or the intent that most people have when they talk about safe and legal access to medical marijuana,” Frank said.
Estimates vary widely on how many Florida medical patients could possibly use this one tightly regimented version of marijuana.
Blau said he has heard estimates ranging from 50,000 to 250,000 people.
Long road ahead
The timetable for non-euphoric cannabis is partly state edict and partly educated guesswork.
Florida’s regulations are to become final by June 17. Then the state will take in applications from would-be applicants for one of the five licenses to be granted statewide for another three weeks, closing that window on July 8.
The state then has 30 days to let applicants know whether they won a license or not, meaning Aug. 8.
Wright said it would take his firm four months to complete a growing and processing plant in eastern Sarasota County and to get it inspected and approved.
That would mean starting a growing cycle in December.
The actual growth period would be about eight weeks.
After that figure a few more weeks for drying out the buds, processing them into extract, and laboratory tests.
That puts delivery into patients hands in March or April 2016.