How Florida Should Regulate #1: Medical Marijuana Reciprocity

How Florida Should Regulate #1: Medical Marijuana Reciprocity

What Is Medical Marijuana Reciprocity?

On November 1, 2016, DC Council approved reciprocity for medical marijuana cardholders from other states. This measure will allow patients that use medical marijuana for their ailments to have access to the medicine while traveling in or visiting Washington DC. Allowing the patients from other states to buy medical marijuana in Washington DC not only makes the capital more welcoming but also shows to the nation the progressive thinking and change of attitude in the medical marijuana policymaking.

Washington DC changed its current medical marijuana laws through “Medical Marijuana Reciprocity Act of 2015.” However, Washington is not the first state to do so.  Maine, Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania New Hampshire, Rhode Island and some other states also have implemented some kind of medical marijuana reciprocity in their legislation.

Why Should Florida Do Medical Marijuana Reciprocity?

There are different reasons why Florida should add a similar provision in the future regulations. The most important are as follows.   Florida has over 100 million tourists visiting the State every year.  No doubt, among tourists and snowbirds, there are some who possess medical marijuana cards from their states or countries.   The cardholders should not risk violating federal laws trying to carry the medicine on the plane board.  Instead, they should be able to buy the medicine in the local dispensaries.

By allowing the tourists and visitors access to the Florida dispensaries, the State will expand the local market, which is already estimated to be $1.5 billion by 2020.   The money tourists spend in Florida stay in Florida. The governments further receive more taxes in the budget in the form of excise/sale or income taxes.

Compassion is the third one. The entire industry is built on compassion. In Florida, the department in charge of the current limited medical marijuana program is called The Office of Compassionate Use. We are as humans do care about other people.  Especially, if those people need the natural medicine a doctor recommends.   Prohibiting out-of-state patients from access to medical marijuana in Florida would contradict the very principle the entire industry builds on.

What Issues Will The Lawmakers Face With Medical Marijuana Reciprocity?

However, a few issues may arise as to the method of implementing such an important provision into the law. Florida should take best practices from other states and leave out the unsuitable ones.  Below are the main five (5) issues needed to be addressed.

  1. Possess and Buy or Just Possess Medical Marijuana?

First of all, should reciprocity only recognize the medical marijuana cards from other states or also allow making purchases in the local dispensaries. Arizona took the path where reciprocity only decriminalizes possession of marijuana for medical purposes for out-of-state patients with cards. In a sense, such regulation encourages black market activities as patients must buy medicine somewhere but cannot do it legally.  Nevada and Michigan give an out-of-state patient access to the local dispensaries with certain limitations. No doubt, Florida should allow the medical marijuana reciprocity that will grant entry to the dispensaries along with decriminalization of possession.

  1. Nationwide or International?

Florida should make it clear whether reciprocity is nationwide or international.  For example, Washington DC allows purchases in the local dispensaries if a qualified patient “is a patient from another jurisdiction who possesses a valid medical marijuana card from that jurisdiction.” It is not clear whether another country is contemplated in this phrase.

Nevada has done a much better job defining this issue. The laws there specifically recognize nonresident medical marijuana cards. But most importantly, the laws define a nonresident card as “issued by another state or jurisdiction.” This makes it clearer that international patients visiting Nevada will be able to lawfully buy medical marijuana. Nevertheless, the words international or another country would make the meaning of the law completely unambiguous, if used.

The only wrinkle with having international medical marijuana reciprocity is a verification process. Florida needs to make sure that the medical marijuana identification cards are legitimate, unexpired, and issued for the purpose of treating medical conditions. Medical marijuana cards from other countries may be difficult to verify, as there is no unified system in the world where dispensaries can send a request. The language barrier can also be a problem. A medical marijuana card from Germany will likely be in German. International travelers will be able to abuse the system. Apostille certification can resolve this issue. Attesting affidavit to the validity of the card can be a way to go as well, just like in Nevada.

  1. What Is The Extent of Medical Marijuana Reciprocity?

Further, whether Florida should allow out-of-state patients use medical marijuana only for the qualified conditions outlined in the Florida law or even those that are not enumerated in Florida but allowed in other jurisdictions. For example, Florida will not allow a use of medical marijuana for a migraine as a separate condition.  Some other states have that condition on the list.  The question is: should a nonresident patient be allowed to buy medicine in Florida for a migraine or not. From the financial and compassionate standpoints, the answer is obviously yes. From a policymaking standpoint, the answer is no.   Rhode Island will not recognize medical marijuana cards issued for a condition other than those listed in the State’s law.  New Hampshire does not limit the reciprocity.  Florida should, of course, take into consideration many other qualifying debilitating symptoms other states provide for, just like Rhode Island.  Apparently, intractable pain is the most controversial condition.  It is expressly allowed in some states (Pennsylvania) and not explicitly allowed in Florida.  However, the condition may still qualify certain patients for the medicine even in Florida.

  1. Time Limitation.

Another issue to be pointed out is the time limitation on the access.  For how long will an out-of-state patient have access to medical marijuana in Florida after entering the state without obtaining a local card? There are a few options.  For example, Maine and Michigan set 30 days limit for visitors to access the local dispensaries.  Nevada, on the other hand, does not set out any limit.  In Florida, many visitors stay over 30 days.  Some of them may be in the State for as long as six months.

The trend in the states is at least 30 days.  Should Florida follow this limit, or have no limits, or pick a different limit like 90 days?  The answer to this question will depend on what kind of regulations Florida Department of Health will impose on the process of obtaining an identification card.  Should it be as fast as within a week, there will be no problem in setting lower limits.  Should it take 90 days (as of right now), maybe any kind of limits will be unreasonable.  In my opinion, the process of registering new patients should be fast and easy as in Nevada (48 hours).  In such case, the issue of time limitation will be moot.

  1. The Principle of Mutuality.

Lastly, should reciprocity be mutual or can it be unilateral to be valid. In other words, should a patient from New York (does not provide for reciprocity) and a patient from Hawaii (will have reciprocity in 2018) be treated the same way if Florida has medical marijuana reciprocity?  This problem should be treated the opposite way Florida treats other states’ bar licenses.  Although many states recognize Florida bar licenses with certain requirements satisfied, Florida does not recognize a single state’s bar license.  All out-of-state attorneys must take Florida bar exam in order to practice law on a regular basis.  In terms of legal licensing, the rule makes sense (decreasing competition among attorneys), however, when we talk about medical marijuana card from other states, mutual reciprocity is not something that should prohibit nonresident patients to purchase the medicine.  Be it New York or Hawaii, Florida should allow medical marijuana patients to have free access to medical marijuana.

Conclusion

At this point, no bills filed with the Senate in Florida do provide for medical marijuana reciprocity. Nevertheless, this issue is of a great importance for Floridians and State visitors and should be addressed in the final version of the bill that will pass.

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