Is pot really legal in Florida? One SWFL doctor is prescribing it

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Some think medical marijuana, or low-THC marijuana, is only legal for people terminally ill or suffering from cancer, seizures and muscle spasms. But some doctors are currently prescribing medical pot to people they say may not fit those categories – and it is completely legal.

Finding a treatment that works

During what seemed liked a normal doctor’s visit, Miranda, a 19-year-old suffering from epilepsy, and Amelia, her mother, wait to discuss the teen’s progress with a new drug her physician prescribed.

“Is your neurologist, remind me is he aware of you using cannabis?” asked the girl’s doctor.

“Yes,” she replied.

Due to the sensitive nature of this story, WINK News has concealed the real identities of the girl and her mother.

Despite the good results they’ve seen with their new prescription, there is still a stigma attached to using medical marijuana, Amelia said.

“I want people to know that there are services out there that can help them and they just can’t give up because they’re in fear,” she said. “We all have to stand together and we all have to stand up and fight for the medicine that we need for our children.”

Miranda has used eight different medications, but none have had sustained success, Amelia said.

“There have been periods where they’ve been effective at first, so for a couple of months, things seem to be going stable,” she said. “I can’t say well because there’s always other side effects from these medications and then they just get to the point there’s no longer effective.”

And then there’s the side effects.

“You cannot deal with them, you cannot handle them,” Amelia continued. “The ranges, changes in emotion, the behavior, they effect your entire mental state, your physical state. Hair falling out, weight gain, just a multitude of of problems from these medications and they all react differently with each child.”

Amelia came across medical marijuana while researching a better way to treat her daughter’s seizures.

“Absolutely I noticed a difference, an improvement in cognition, grades have gone up, um just overall improvement in temperament and of course seizure control,” she said. “And with the medical cannabis, if you miss a dose, there’s no side effect to that, you just resume your normal dose and you continue on.”

**The legal opinions on the use of medical marijuana expressed by Florida Integrated Health in this Facebook Live video are their legal conclusions. Several others, including a former federal prosecutor, say that what the clinic is doing is not legal and you could put yourself at risk of prosecution for using medical marijuana in Florida.**

Why it is legal

The clinic Miranda uses is located off Metro Parkway in Lee County. Florida Integrative Health‘s executive director, Chris Ralph, says doctors’ ability to legally prescribe medical marijuana all comes down to a phrase in a 2001 law.

“In 2001 we passed the Health Freedom Act that allows a doctor to provide any mode of treatment without restriction, and those words, without restriction are very important,” he said. “The only state law there is in Florida, is the Health Freedom Act and the Controlled Substances Act. The Controlled Substances Act clearly states that it is lawful to be in possession of a controlled substance if it is obtained by a practitioner, and the Health Freedom Act states that a patient has the right to access that mode of treatment as long as it’s agreed upon with informed consent by the practitioner or between the practitioner and the patient.”

In 2014, state legislators passed the Compassionate Care Act, which allowed for the legal use of low-THC marijuana, also known as Charlotte’s Web, for patients with cancer, epilepsy or muscle spasms.

Amelia said her daughter actually tried Charlotte’s Web first, but it did not work.

“In fact, it sent us to the emergency room a couple of times,” she said. “In our situation, it caused seizures.”

Ralph said low-THC is not an option for everyone.

“What we know now two years later, CBD (Charlotte’s Web), after a short period of time of use, becomes nothing more than snake oil,” he said. “Because it requires THC to have that balanced homeostatic effect in that body. Most patients that we see will start off with some form of CBD. It will work for a short period of time and then it will stop working.”

Is it really legal?

Mark Bonner, an Ave Maria School of Law professor and former federal prosecutor, believes what Ralph is doing is illegal.

“The only way you can get marijuana legally in the state, is if you have a doctor prescribe it under this new Compassionate Care Act,” he said. “Anybody else who’s selling, giving away marijuana not in that way, is committing a crime.”

Ralph said the clinic works with law enforcement, including a former candidate for sheriff in Duval County who wrote in an open campaign letter that “a patient with a valid prescription for medical cannabis may lawfully possess and/or use cannabis for the treatment of their medical condition…”

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said they are aware of the clinic, but did not comment further.

Locally, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office said they believe they talked with Ralph at least once, but did not elaborate on the conversation.

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