An enormous medical marijuana recommendation in Broward County raises eyebrows and concerns over gaps in legislative vocabulary.
One doctor approved over 65 million pounds between his 235 patients, accounting for roughly 77 percent of the State’s recommendations for its entire 136,000 patient population, totaling 38.4 billion grams. These recommendations from Physician Jeffrey Stern from January 1st to September 30th of last year demonstrate what some perceive to be a potential hazard in the State’s budding marijuana laws.
A law that was enacted in June of 2017 originally called for the Department of Health to establish daily dosage limits and guidelines for the total amount of cannabis doctors can approve. Legal battles between legislative committees and the DOH have effectively halted the practice of many of the law’s specific regulations. This law was once thought to be an important building block in what lawmakers touted as a heavily regulated cannabis industry, however it has effectively been stagnant for over a year.
When Stern was questioned about his astronomical recommendations he claims that he never actually intended for his patients to receive the excessive amount, only that he wanted them to have unrestricted access to medicinal cannabis and alleviate the high cost of follow-up appointments.
Stern likened himself to Robin Hood when explaining his reasoning stating, “Some doctors make their patients come back again and again, and I want to save my patients money.”
In the same time that Stern single-handedly recommended 29.8 billion grams to his patients, marijuana retailers only sold 898 million grams. Officials claim the only reason the patients were not able to fulfill the full amount of their prescriptions is the availability and cost of the product. As it stands now, the law would not restrict any specific prescribed amounts.
Stern commented that the idea his patients would be able to obtain the full amount prescribed was “laughable” and that, “there’s no way a dispensary would fill that much marijuana … my patients — they couldn’t afford it.”
The report documenting the disparity between recommended and actual cannabis sold was compiled by the DOH and made available for members of the Legislature. The intention was to have leaders from the House and Senate read and understand this report before drafting any new bills during this year’s session. Currently no statements have been released from Nick Van Der Linden, spokesperson for the Department of Health, likewise Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker Jose Oliva also remained silent on the subject.
One person speaking out on the matter happens to be Kim Rivers, head of the State’s largest medicinal cannabis supplier Trulieve. Kim released a statement noting that the recommendations received by physicians are only a guideline and should not be read as the amount being physically distributed by medical marijuana providers.
She elaborates, “Comparing physician recommendations versus what is actually dispensed is a little like comparing apples to oranges, in that patients very often don’t end up having dispensed what was recommended for a wide variety of reasons.” She goes on to say, “In speaking for Trulieve, we have been able to meet patient demand across a wide variety of products. Our capacity continues to increase at a rapid pace and will allow us to continue meeting this demand.”
While the 2017 law was intended to have doctors issue 70-day prescriptions based on a daily dosage limit that was never established, the Interim Director for the Office of Medical Marijuana Use Courtney Coppola says she does not know when a definitive rule will be established. A panel in Tallahassee last September to discuss daily dosage limits, but no action has been taken since.
Now over a year behind in the implementation of this law, more consequences are presenting themselves. The law was also responsible for creating 14 new business licenses granted for the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana. Today, only seven licenses have been issued. The delay in licensing has been blamed on several factors, including an overwhelming amount of legal challenges brought up by the numerous businesses desperately trying to get their hands on one of these coveted licenses. Disgruntled law makers however, claim the agency responsible for the new regulations are simply not doing enough.
Eyes once again shift to new Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who previously claimed to quickly push these new licenses out, along with the full practice of this year-old law.
When the chairman of the State Board of Medicine, Steven Rosenberg, was asked about the staggering amount of cannabis recommendations this past year, he claimed that Stern was far outside the standard when observing the over 1,000 physicians authorized to prescribe marijuana. The board was tasked with analyzing the information gathered from the database doctors use to send referrals to cannabis dispensaries. The rest, he said, “is up to the Legislature.”
Stern defends his astronomical recommendations citing that the Legislature provided no reason to enact any limit on daily dosage amounts and described the limits as both “stupid” and “pointless”. Stern reportedly also runs a clinic in New York in which he gave exactly the same recommendations. New York does not currently have any dosage limits. He says, “there are no limits … because they know there’s no reason to add them.” Physicians in New York can fully manage their patients prescriptions and do not need to adhere to any 70 day limits as they do in Florida. New York does however, limit the total THC content and potency of their cannabis products.
All in all, it is clear that there is still a long road ahead for cannabis legislation nationwide. Another question left after this discussion is, how many resources should be devoted to legislation that could be completely invalidated in as little as one year? With more talk of adding adult use, or what many refer to as recreational, cannabis to the ballot in 2020 it’s quite possible we may eliminate the need for a doctor’s recommendation entirely. Millions are eager to see what happens next as many states move closer to full legalization.