Fred Grimm

Forget the sick, dying and disabled. Rule No. 1 for medical pot: Nobody has fun

A close-up of a flowering marijuana plant in the production room of Modern Health Concepts’ greenhouse on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017.
A close-up of a flowering marijuana plant in the production room of Modern Health Concepts’ greenhouse on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Miami Herald

Never mind heart-rending testimony from the dying, diseased and debilitated, who crowded into five public hearings across Florida this week to beg the state medical marijuana rule-makers to honor the voters’ intent.

Never mind pleas from would-be cannabis farmers and entrepreneurs, who pleaded with state officials to loosen the exclusive, lucrative and utterly inefficient control held by Florida’s medical-pot cartels.

Never mind that Amendment 2, approved by voters in November, demanded that in addition to treating 10 enumerated medical conditions with pot, physicians should also be allowed to prescribe cannabis if they “believe the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks.”

Instead, the misnamed Office of Compassionate Use has floated proposed rules that would allow the Florida Board of Medicine to preempt a doctor’s decision and sharply limit those treatable conditions. The regulations, in another extraordinary invasion of the doctor-patient relationship, would also require a 90-day waiting period before a patient could actually procure prescriptions. Nor will patients be allowed to smoke the stuff — the least expensive delivery system.

Of course, this being Florida, the proposed rules contemplate that the state’s entire billion-dollar-plus medical marijuana industry would remain in the grip of seven, politically influential operations — monopolies that each hold an exclusive license to grow, process and dispense marijuana in designated geographic areas. Who needs competition when you’ve got friends in Tallahassee?

Of course, these are only “proposed rules.” The Office of Compassionate Use staged hearings in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando and Tallahassee, ostensibly to get some public input before adopting the final rules in July.

The undersized hearing venues revealed just how much the office valued that public sentiment. In Fort Lauderdale, the only convenient site for seven million South Floridians, the parking lot at the state health department building was crammed full. Cars were jammed along the berms five blocks away. The meeting room was filled, along with an overflow room next door. And a line snaked out the door.

“Shows you just how damned interested they were in hearing us,” said Manny Giraldo, as he and I and a cluster of other would-be attendees gave up hope of making it inside. Manny, who suffers from a chronic and painful back ailment, limped away in disgust. “You think they were surprised that so many of us showed up? I doubt it,” he muttered.

At a hearing the following day in Tampa, Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano described the same lack of foresight. “The parking lot ... was so jammed with cars parked in the grass and on curbs that officials begged drivers to look for spaces a couple of blocks away.”

Romano also described the same angry and nearly unanimous disgust with the proposed rules that was voiced in Fort Lauderdale.

Rule makers ignore the intent of Amendment 2, which received 1,901,033 more votes in Florida than Trump.

But allowing the suffering masses to find relief using medical marijuana, as the voters intended, is obviously not the priority of the state bureaucrats making these rules. Never mind that Amendment 2 received 6,518,919 votes last fall, 71 percent of the vote, and 1,901,033 more votes in Florida than Donald Trump.

State officials are terrified that somebody in Florida might use pot for lesser ailments. Maybe they’ll use pot for insomnia or depression or nausea or chronic pain. Or, God forbid (which keeps the rule-makers at the Office of Compassionate Use up at night) maybe to just relax and have a giggle. You know, like those law-abiding folks in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine, where recreational marijuana no longer violates state law.

So the Office of Compassionate Use attempted to jam Amendment 2 into the same restrictive regulatory regime the state Legislature adopted in 2014 for Charlotte’s Web, the non-hallucinatory cannabis oil used to treat chronic seizures. (And also, to allow the terminally ill to use full-strength cannabis.)

Except, among those testifying at the hearings these week, were Charlotte’s Web and terminally ill patients (or their relatives) who complained that Florida’s piddling seven growers have failed to meet the demand. And that the prices have been kept so artificially high that the terminally ill turned back to the much cheaper black market.

Last week, Christian Bax, director of the Office of Compassionate Use, warned a gathering of government officials and marijuana industry representatives in Orlando what awful situations might unfold if Florida wasn’t vigilant in its rule making. According to Dara Kam of the State News Service, Bax said, “You’re going to have people who think marijuana is just legal. You’re going to see people who think they can just grow it in their backyard.”

Just imagine — sick people circumventing the overpriced state monopolies and growing their own marijuana. In their own backyards. Oh my God, the horror. The unspeakable horror.