In June this year, Florida legislation approved (1) the expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program. Prior to this, the program only covered epilepsy, chronic muscle spasms, and terminal illnesses. Now, patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other similar conditions at the discretion of the prescribing doctor. However, months after the change, many patients are still waiting for their applications to be processed.
Doctors and patients alike remain frustrated with the process. Beyond the obvious time delays, many patients have had their applications rejected and returned for minor technicalities which means starting the process all over. Another waiting game, while patients suffer through symptoms of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Ivan Fields, the CEO of Marijuana Doctor stated,
“Department of Health - Office of Medical Marijuana is obviously understaffed based on the unreasonable amount of hold time when calling in in the amount of time it takes for them to approve applications and print ID cards. We've been told that Department of Health has put out a bid for a third-party provider to handle the ID cards for the state.
I feel that the 71% of the voters who passed this amendment should call their local government representatives and alert them of the situation. The Department of Health is not doing the right thing by the patients seeking treatment, I've heard many stories of patients dying while waiting for the medicine including one of our own.”
Adding the additional conditions has put a burden on the Department of Health, who is responsible for approving medical marijuana applications. As of June, there were just short of 17,000 Florida medical marijuana patients, but since the addition of the new conditions that number spiked to more than 31,000 by the end of August. This influx of patients seeking medical marijuana has overwhelmed the small staff at the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which consists of only three full-time and nine part-time employees.
The lack of staff in the regulating office, some patients have been waiting up to 90 days for their card to arrive. Even when everything goes as planned, medical marijuana patients are waiting as long as a month before receiving their medical marijuana identification card, so they can begin purchasing the medicinal herb from area dispensaries.
To understand the delays, the Miami Herald recently spoke with Department of Health spokeswoman (2), Mara Gambineri who commented on the current state of affairs within the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Although the department has received funding to hire 55 new employees, Gambineri mentioned outsourcing operations in an effort to help improve the situation and speed up application processing. To date, the department handles more than 1,000 phone calls a day and has up to 3,000 applications pending at any one time.
“As the program continues to grow, we agree that it is not sustainable to handle in house long-term, which is why we are outsourcing these functions as directed by law. However, while we work through the procurement process, we continue to do our best to process applications and respond to inquiries in a timely manner,” Gambineri stated for the Miami Herald.
In addition, Florida law requires doctors must be certified through a course to prescribe the medication. Although this course was originally an eight-hour requirement, it has been reduced to two hours. Unfortunately, no facility has started teaching the condensed curriculum, the old curriculum is no longer valid leaving doctors in limbo waiting to be certified. Meanwhile, patient numbers continue to increase, prescribing doctors remained relatively stagnant leaving just over 1000 doctors available for more than 31,000 patients.
Clearly, patients suffering deserve better. While bureaucrats wrestle with red-tape, people continue to suffer with ailments and symptoms. As Fields stated, the 71% of voters who voted (3) for the amendment during the November election should be urged to contact their local representatives and challenge the delays. Contact your representative today to ask why people continue to suffer.
- Reedy, Joe. Florida Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Legislation. US News & World Report. June 23, 2017.
- Smiley, David. Trying to get a medical marijuana card soon? Don’t hold your breath. Miami Herald. August 23, 2017.
- Kam, Dara. Fox News WTVT - Channel 13 Tampa. www.fox13news.com. [Online] Fox News, November 8, 2016. http://www.fox13news.com/news/politics/florida-voters-approve-medical-marijuana-amendment.