After Florida lawmakers finally came to an agreement on the voter-approved medical cannabis expansion earlier this year, patients in the Sunshine State started lining up en masse to gain access to legal medicinal pot. In fact, the number of medical marijuana applicants has doubled since the state expanded its list of qualifying conditions.
With all the sudden influx of interest, Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use has been completely overwhelmed, leaving many applicants waiting up to three months to obtain the state-issued cards that are required to legally purchase cannabis. According to the state’s medical marijuana department, it should only take 30 days to receive the card once the application has been submitted.
While some have been fortunate enough to receive their ID cards in a timely manner, many patients claim that they’ve been waiting two or three months. One patient, Adam McWilliams, told local newspaper the Sun-Sentinel that he mailed his $75 payment on July 19, and although he received confirmation that his ID card was sent on September 18, he has yet to receive it.
The state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use has openly acknowledged the delays, and is currently negotiating a deal to outsource production of the cards to a private company. They are also implementing electronic payment options and electronic transfers of patient photos, both of which should expedite the overall process. Lastly, the state budget allotted money to the medical cannabis department to hire 28 new employees, helping to deal with severe understaffing issues.
“We are doing everything we can right now to crank these cards out because we know there are patients in very difficult medical situations, and we do not want to be the bottleneck,” said Christian Bax, Executive Director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use.
A recent survey conducted by the Venice-based Compassionate Cannabis Clinic showed that - while a majority of patients aren’t waiting as long as three months - most identification cards are taking 40 to 50 days to reach the applicant. Some have also speculated that Hurricane Irma and its aftermath has contributed to the lengthy deferment.
Nonetheless, in a situation where access to medical marijuana could be halting chronic conditions and reducing severe pain, even one month seems too long for patients to wait. By hiring more employees and developing a more streamlined application process, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use is working to fix these glaring problems. But while the lives of patients hang in the balance, it’s critical that the department moves quickly to alleviate the situation.