Medical Marijuana
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Medical Marijuana Laws in Florida

In November 2014, more than 3.3 million Floridians voted in favor of Amendment 2, a proposed state constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana.

Although Amendment 2 received half a million more votes than the governor (who won re-election), the medical marijuana initiative garnered only 58 percent of the vote, less than the 60 percent "supermajority" required to pass an amendment to the state Constitution.

Organizers of the medical marijuana movement vowed to try again and successfully petitioned to place a revised version of the initiative on the statewide ballot once more in November 2016.

Until then, all forms of medical marijuana remain illegal in Florida, except a special strain of marijuana known as "Charlotte's Web." This non-euphoric type of marijuana is used by people who suffer from epilepsy, cancer, and seizures. It became legal in Florida in June 2014 with the passage of Senate Bill 1030, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act.

Under Charlotte's Web law, authorized doctors may prescribe cannabis products that are low in THC (which is responsible for the "high" produced by recreational marijuana) for qualified patients diagnosed with cancer, epilepsy, or chronic seizures or muscle spasms.

The state created the Office of Compassionate Use within the Florida Department of Health to administer the Charlotte's Web program. The Office of Compassionate Use maintains a list of doctors permitted to order low-THC cannabis products on its website.

After being plagued by 15 months of delays that were criticized from both sides of the political aisle, the State finally designated five approved growers of Charlotte's Web in November 2015. Cultivation was planned for early 2016, with the first distribution of Charlotte's Web to needy Florida patients expected sometime later in the year.

But the current, narrow law leaves many patients behind, so an expanded medical marijuana law is essential to their treatment.

Brevard County, Florida Attorneys for Medical Marijuana Issues

If you or your loved one wish to learn more about medical marijuana, if your need help obtaining medical marijuana, or if you are a medical marijuana user who was charged with possession of marijuana in Melbourne, Florida or Brevard County, Florida, contact the experienced attorneys at Law Offices of Germain & McCarthy, LLC today.

The Law Offices of Germain & McCarthy, LLC represents clients in Melbourne, Titusville, Palm Bay, Rockledge, Merritt Island, and Cocoa, the smaller cities and communities throughout Brevard County and nearby Volusia, Indian River, Orange, and Osceola counties. Call us today at (321) 253-3447 to discuss your concerns related to medical marijuana.

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The Fight to Legalize Medical Marijuana in Florida

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of medical marijuana as of March 2016.

The fight to legalize medical marijuana in Florida has been highly politicized. But while elected officials argue the potential benefits of marijuana as medicine, sick people are deprived of a natural substance that has been proven to provide relief of their pain and other maladies, despite existing state and federal laws that say marijuana has no accepted medical use.

Medical marijuana has gained surprising traction and bi-partisan support in Florida, a state where polarizing political opinions caused the State House to adjourn two days early in mid-2015 instead of settling a dispute over whether to provide health care for 850,000 uninsured residents. (They had to return for a special session and decided against healthcare expansion.)

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The Path to Legalizing Medical Marijuana in Florida

When Florida voters go to the polls on November 8, 2016, they will not only cast ballots for a new President of the United States and state and local candidates, but they will also determine whether Florida has the collective compassion to approve medical marijuana for the people who need it.

The revised language of the new medical marijuana initiative, coupled with the fact that younger voters tend to turn out more for presidential elections, encourage medical marijuana proponents that they may exceed the 60 percent "supermajority" threshold to achieve legal status in 2016.

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Summary of the Proposed Medical Marijuana Amendment

The official summary of the proposed amendment states that the amendment would add a new section (29) to Article X of the Florida Constitution that:

  • Allows medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician; and
  • Allows caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana

It also states that the Department of Health "shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers."

Noting that the amendment applies only to Florida law, the summary adds that the amendment "does not immunize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana."

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Pros and Cons of Medical Marijuana in Florida

As with the approval of Charlotte's Web, the electorate's pending endorsement of medical marijuana is another incremental step in relaxing and eventually overturning draconian laws that deny treatment to people who are ill or in pain.

Marijuana prohibitionists argue that legalizing marijuana for medical use will make it available to anyone who can convince a doctor to prescribe marijuana for minor ailments such as headaches or stiff joints. They assert that loosening marijuana laws would entice young people to use marijuana recreationally, lead to higher crime rates, and increase the use of more serious drugs.

The staunchest marijuana opponents rely on old "Reefer Madness" stereotypes and notions that anyone who uses "pot" is a "hippie" or a "stoner." They point to controversial evidence that marijuana is a "gateway" drug and its use leads to the use of other, more dangerous drugs.  

They refuse to acknowledge data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that marijuana has never directly led to a death, unlike alcohol, tobacco, or prescription drugs. They also do not seem to understand the difference in the cannabinoids between marijuana intended for recreation use (which contains THC, the active chemical that causes a "high") and medical marijuana (which contains CBD, a non-euphoric chemical that eases pain).

They also conflate the use of medical marijuana with the ongoing epidemic of prescription drug abuse in Florida and argue that medical marijuana will lead to the full legalization of marijuana, which they infer is a dangerous public policy.

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Growing Acceptance of Marijuana

Medical marijuana is not the only marijuana battleground in Florida. Separate movements to legalize marijuana for recreational use are also gaining momentum.

Attitudes toward marijuana are changing rapidly across the U.S., with four states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska) and Washington, D.C. legalizing marijuana for recreational use and nearly half the states approving at least some form of medical marijuana. Several other states may vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016.

Since mid-2015, a growing number of Florida counties (Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach) and cities (West Palm Beach, Miami Beach, Key West, and Tampa) have taken the step of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts (less than 20 grams) of marijuana, often with the support of police agencies.

In these jurisdictions, possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana is treated as a civil violation — similar to a traffic ticket — payable by a fine, with no court appearance required or permanent criminal record resulting. Monroe and Alachua counties were also considering decriminalization of marijuana in early 2016.

A 2015 national poll revealed that 81 percent of Americans favored legalizing marijuana for medical use, while 49 percent support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. A 2014 poll of Florida voters showed that 70 percent supported a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana.

These favorable responses toward marijuana indicate that the long demonization of marijuana — and particularly, resistance against medical marijuana — is ending.

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Penalties for Marijuana Possession in Florida

Despite these changing trends, possession of marijuana for any reason — except persons prescribed the Charlotte's Web strain of marijuana — remains illegal in Florida.

Possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana is a first-degree misdemeanor (the most serious type of misdemeanor) in Florida, punishable upon conviction by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Possession of 20 grams of marijuana or more (up to 25 pounds) is a third-degree felony, punishable by one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Additional penalties for marijuana possession may include a driver's license suspension of up to two years.

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Marijuana in Historical Perspective

Marijuana was legal in the U.S. until it was greatly restricted — although not expressly made illegal — by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (Pub. 238, 75th Congress, 50 Stat. 551 [Aug. 2, 1937]). The Supreme Court invalidated that law in 1969 (Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6 [1969], a case involving famed counterculture icon Timothy Leary) as unconstitutional.

Congress responded by passing the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 — Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 (Pub. L. No. 91-513, 84 Stat. 1236 [Oct. 27, 1970]) — which made possession of marijuana completely illegal in the U.S.

Efforts to reform marijuana laws quickly followed. NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was founded in 1970 and began lobbying states to pass their own marijuana laws. California led the way and passed the nation's first medical marijuana law in 1996. Since then, 23 other states and the District of Columbia have approved medical marijuana.

The laws struggle to catch up to reality, but possession of marijuana for medical reasons has become a legal defense in several states. Indeed, medical marijuana may lead to recreational marijuana, but if properly legislated, regulated, and taxed, the relaxation of marijuana laws may be sound public policy. It's already working in several states and a handful of places in Florida.

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Additional Resources

Constitutional Amendment Petition Form — Read the full text of the proposed medical marijuana amendment to the Florida Constitution, which would create a new Section 29 to Article X of the Constitution. This form was used in accumulating the more than 683,000 signatures required to petition for a constitutional amendment.

Florida Senate Bill 1030 — Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 — Read the text of the 2014 Florida Senate Bill that authorized the Charlotte's Web program in Florida. 

Florida Office of Compassionate Use — The Florida Department of Health created the Office of Compassionate Use in 2014 to oversee the implementation of Charlotte's Web strain of medical marijuana. Find answers to questions about medical marijuana and links to important contact information, including a list of physicians approved to prescribe Charlotte's Web, at the Office of Compassionate Use website.

National Institute on Drug Abuse: Is Marijuana Medicine? — Read an informative article about medical marijuana from the federal government's perspective that was published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in July 2015.

Increasing Percentages of Americans Approve Medical and Recreational Marijuana — See the results of a national poll about the increasing acceptance of medical and recreational marijuana acceptance, conducted in February 2015 and published in May 2015.

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Attorneys for Medical Marijuana in Brevard County, Florida

If you or a loved one is in need of information about medical marijuana or assistance in legally obtaining medical marijuana in Melbourne, Florida or Brevard County, Florida, contact the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Germain & McCarthy, LLC. Our criminal defense lawyers can also help if you are a medical marijuana patient who was arrested for possession of marijuana.

The Law Offices of Germain & McCarthy, LLC represents clients throughout Brevard County, including Melbourne, Palm Bay, Titusville, Rockledge, and Cocoa, as well as the adjacent counties of Volusia, Indian River, Orange, and Osceola.

Like many, we are keenly interested in medical marijuana and we anticipate the outcome of the vote in November 2016. Contact Law Offices of Germain & McCarthy, LLC at (321) 253-3447 to discuss your concerns about medical marijuana with one of our attorneys during a free consultation.

This page was last updated on Friday, March 18, 2016.

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