Miami Herald: Trying to get a medical marijuana card soon? Don’t hold your breath
The cannabis boom is under way in Florida, and government is struggling to keep up.
Thousands of new patients have sought access to medical marijuana this summer following the passage of a new law expanding the list of maladies that qualify for treatment. Since June 7, the number of patients certified over the entire first three years of Florida’s fledgling cannabis program has nearly doubled from 16,760 to more than 31,000.
But patients are finding it’s one thing to receive a doctor’s certification, and another to receive the state-issued identification card needed to legally place an order. Doctors seeking state-required training through a new course that has yet to be offered are equally frustrated, leading to a growing feeling that the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use and its 12 employees — nine of whom are part-time — are simply overwhelmed.
“I’m not sure the state was prepared,” said Pete Sessa, chief operating officer of the advocacy-minded Florida Cannabis Coalition.
Right now, the average patient — who might suffer from cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s or other serious illnesses — waits 30 days after applying to receive a medical marijuana card. And that’s if everything goes according to plan.
Patients on Facebook message groups and frustrated doctors tell stories about unexplained delays, applications rejected on technicalities related to photos, and paperwork lost in the mail. Cory Young, a cancer survivor and former paramedic from the Florida Keys who suffers from neuropathy and post-traumatic stress disorder, said he waited on hold for hours over five frustrating weeks trying to find out what happened to his application and $75 money order.
At one point, he was told his application was incomplete because his physician began the process online and Young finished it by sending documents and payment in the mail. Last week, though, Young said he learned from an email that his card was being printed.
“Their system is absolutely broken,” he said.
The pace may be frustrating, but patients are slowly receiving their cards. As of Aug. 6, the state had awarded 12,226, according to a spokeswoman. And, even if patients have to wait a month, that’s still an improvement on the 90-day waiting period for new patients required by law as recently as June.
Still, physicians and patients say it’s unnecessary.
“I think it’s crazy that patients still are waiting four weeks to get their card. That’s ridiculous. And most of the time, they’re getting their card [applications] returned,” said Michelle Weiner, a South Florida Interventional Pain Management Physician qualified to issue marijuana recommendations. “I have cancer patients who are still suffering.”
by David Smiley