Next year, patients across Florida suffering from extreme seizures and a handful of other symptoms should be able to get their hands on low-THC marijuana, but exactly when next year is unclear. An administrative court scrapped much of the proposed distribution framework last week. That leaves stakeholders with hope for a better system, and certainty of a longer wait.
Low-THC marijuana, and in particular an oil called Charlotte’s Web, has shown promise in helping epilepsy patients whose seizures don’t respond to traditional drugs. Holley Moseley and her daughter RayAnn were instrumental in bringing the treatment to Florida during the last legislative session.
“30 percent of patients with epilepsy are considered intractable,” Moseley says, “and so RayAnn falls in that category, meaning there’s nothing that works.”
Moseley lobbied her local representative, Ft. Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, to sponsor the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, a bill allowing patients like RayAnn to use products like low-THC marijuana to treat their seizures. That process certainly wasn’t easy, especially in an election year marked by little legislative action, but it was successful. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support.
But developing a system for cultivating, processing, and distributing the marijuana hasn’t gone quite so well. The Legislature charged the Department of Health with constructing the framework, and from the outset its proposals have been met with stiff resistance. Last week a judge threw out many of the Department’s proposed rules. Speaking at a House organizational session, Gaetz acknowledged this is setback.
“I think the Judge’s ruling eviscerates the January 1 deadline to get cannabis license out,” Gaetz says. “That’s disappointing, but I’d rather measure twice and cut once.”
But Florida Medical Cannabis Association lobbyist Ron Watson says the ruling leaves a lot of uncertainty.
“So where we find ourselves now is what happens next?” Watson says. “Does the Department appeal? Does the Department try to change the rules under the direction that the judge has given, and/or will the Legislature get involved now that Amendment Two didn’t pass, but it got close to 58 percent?”
Amendment Two, which would have instituted a much broader medical marijuana policy, came very close to passing in the last election. And many, including some lawmakers, have spoken about the possibility of the Legislature taking action to expand beyond low-THC marijuana. But Gaetz isn’t rushing to make any changes.
“I think that there is some hope that we can allow the reforms that we passed last year to sink in so that we have an opportunity to analyze the elements that will work and maybe some that need to be tweaked,” Gaetz says.
And Moseley is on the same page.
“Y’know let’s put all of our focus into what we have on the table now and make this the best possible system,” Moseley says.
But even if the Legislature stays on the sidelines, it’s difficult to tell how close the Department is to a workable policy. Ron Watson explains even if revisions were ready right this instant, there are a lot of potential hurdles before patients get treatment.
“[There’s] the processes of the 21-day notice, and then having to go to JAPC [Joint Administrative Procedures Committee], and then potentially if somebody else challenging it? Again, January 1 is going to be difficult.”
Moseley understands the path ahead is long and arduous, but she says the most important thing is getting this right.
“Of course we want it—as parents we want it now—because we live with our children daily who are suffering,” Moseley says. “I had to pick RayAnn up from school yesterday for seizures, so I—of course I want it now. However, at the same time, I have to remind myself I want it to be done correctly.”
Department officials won’t comment on when they’ll decide between rewriting the rules or appealing the ruling.
When asked for comment about how it was likely to proceed, the Department reiterated the only statement it has released since the ruling: the Department will consider all options that will most expeditiously get this product to market to help families facing serious illnesses.