Florida’s limited medical marijuana program is finally almost ready to go live. For those who have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for the right moment to learn about the program, now is that moment. Recently, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) hosted a webinar highlighting some of the key features, as well as limitations of the program. The smoking of cannabis is not authorized under the law and therefore no smokable product will be dispensed. Vapor pens and cartridges containing cannabis oil will likely be most prevalent. Below are the highlights of the DOH webinar:

Dispensing Process

Currently, only the six approved dispensing organizations are legally allowed to grow, process and dispense cannabis to patients. Prior to dispensing, the organization must verify through a (still under-construction) statewide registry that there is a valid unfilled order on file for that patient. Then the dispensing organization may only dispense a 45-day supply, at most, of cannabis.

Ordering Cannabis

Only Florida licensed physicians that have taken the Florida Medical Association cannabis continuing medical education course and have passed the associated exam may order cannabis for a qualified patient. Further, there are significant limitations as for whom a physician may write a cannabis order and for what conditions. A physician’s failure to abide by these rules could result in disciplinary action by the DOH as well as criminal prosecution. It is a first degree misdemeanor for a physician to order cannabis for a patient without reasonable belief that the patient qualifies to receive the order. It is also unlawful for a physician to receive a kickback from a dispensing organization.

Physicians who chose to order cannabis for patients must also be willing to accept certain ongoing compliance obligations provided for in the law, such as the obligation to submit a patient treatment plan to the University of Florida, on a quarterly basis.

Of particular importance, the law sets forth a minimum amount of time that the doctor-patient relationship must exist prior to the physician being able to issue a lawful order for cannabis. Specially, a physician may only order cannabis if the physician has treated the patient for at least three months immediately preceding the patient’s registration in the state registry. According to the DOH, medical marijuana products will be made available for purchase on or before September 8, 2016. Thus, if a patient has not already begun treatment with a registered cannabis qualified physician by now, then that patient would not immediately qualify to receive an order for cannabis in September.

Patient interest in medical marijuana should be expected to increase throughout the summer as Florida’s program inches closer towards launch. Florida’s first state-sanctioned cannabis plants are now being cultivated and the finished medicinal product will be rolled out soon. Now is the time for physicians interested in the program to learn more about it and adjust their practices accordingly.