Sun Sentinel: Need medical marijuana? Here's what to expect
Hundreds of doctors in Florida are now certified to recommend medical marijuana for patients, and one of the biggest concentrations is in South Florida.
Palm Beach County ranks sixth of Florida’s 67 counties for the number of qualified doctors per resident. Miami-Dade County is ninth and Broward 15th.
More than 100 doctors signed on in the three weeks between June 16, and Aug. 4, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The increase comes as the state moves forward to implement a constitutional amendment approved by voters that allows marijuana use for certain ailments.
Still, patients in some parts of the state have no access and insurance doesn’t cover marijuana, so poorer patients could be priced out of the market.
Among recent changes:
- State lawmakers eliminated the 90-waiting period to get medical marijuana.
- There are now 957 doctors in Florida qualified to recommend medical marijuana, with 357 of them in South Florida.
- On a per capita basis, Monroe County has the most doctors who can recommend medical marijuana, with one for every 8,208 residents in the county, state numbers show. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties all finish in the top 15 counties.
- Of Florida’s 30 largest cities, Boca Raton has the state’s highest per capita number of doctors credentialed to make the recommendations: one for every 4,005 residents.
- Most counties in the Panhandle have no doctors who have taken and passed the required $500, two-hour medical marijuana course. A four-county area in south central Florida — including Hardee, De Soto, Glades and Hendry counties — is in the same situation.
Doctors “recommend” marijuana rather than “prescribe” it, because it is a controlled substance. For that reason, many doctors have not signed up for fear of losing their federal licenses. And since pharmacies can’t carry it, there are dispensaries to distribute it.
How to get medical marijuana
Patients must have a qualifying ailment to receive marijuana. Those include cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, or “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class,” per the amendment’s language.
To find a local doctor, check this list. You can also go to Floridahealth.gov or call the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use at 850-245-4657.
Once approved, the patient is entered into the state’s medical marijuana registry and then must apply for a medical marijuana card. According to Florida Department of Health spokesperson Mara Gambineri, that can take a month.
Patients can receive a 70-day supply at a time. After that, they must get a new recommendation, which can be phoned in. After 30 weeks, patients must once again see their doctor in person.
Insurance cannot cover any part of the process.
A typical in-person visit costs about $250. Patients also pay a $75 fee for their medical marijuana card. And then there’s the cost of buying the marijuana, which ranges from about $100 to $200 for a 70-day supply.
“It’s pricey for the patients,” said Dr. Bruce Stratt, who treats about 50 medical marijuana patients at his Boca Raton clinic. “And the people I’m seeing are sick people. They need their medicine.”
He has used the law’s “other debilitating medical conditions” provision to prescribe marijuana for auto-immune diseases similar to Crohn’s, severe arthritis and chronic pain from nervous system damage.
After an initial consultation, Stratt places a patient on the state’s medical marijuana registry and walks the patient through the application to get a medical marijuana card. His office manager even takes their photo, as the Department of Health has photo requirements similar to those of a passport.
Patients face a wait period of about 30 days as their application is processed.
“We have seen a significant and steady increase in the volume of card applications since Amendment 2 went into effect,” said Gambineri, the Health Department spokesperson.
The number of licensed growers has increased from seven under an old, less-expansive medical marijuana law passed in 2014 to 12 in August, with five more to be added in October.
Those in-state growers will have to supply all of the medical marijuana for Florida’s patients — it would violate federal law to transport the product across state lines.
But the growers agree they have enough capacity to supply patients.
Top 15 counties for medical marijuana doctors
- Monroe: one per 8,208 residents
- Martin: one per 8,676 residents
- Indian River: one per 10,684 residents
- Pinellas: one per 10,921 residents
- Hernando: one per 12,364 residents
- Palm Beach: one per 14,055 residents
- Sarasota: one per 14,165 residents
- Jefferson: one per 14,658 residents
- Miami-Dade: one per 16,237 residents
- Hillsborough: one per 16,254 residents
- St. Lucie: one per 16,493 residents
- Citrus: one per 17,504 residents
- Okaloosa: one per 18,348 residents
- St. Johns: one per 19,582 residents
- Broward: one per 20,002 residents
By Daniel Sweeney