The state of Florida can no longer ban medical marijuana patients from smoking cannabis, a judge ruled Friday. But the Florida Health Department is appealing the judge’s decision. Caught between are Florida’s medical marijuana patients, who say the state legislature is placing unconstitutional restrictions on access to their medicine.
Florida Judge Says Medical Marijuana Smoking Ban Is Unconstitutional
In 2016, Florida voters approved Amendment 2. The constitutional amendment became effective on January 3, 2017. It expanded Florida’s list of qualifying medical conditions, but also placed restrictions on smoking medical marijuana.
Specifically, the language in the bill and an “intent document” circulating during the 2016 lead up to the vote did mention smoking marijuana, but only in very limited terms. The bill states that the Florida legislature and local governments could ban medical cannabis smoking in public places.
Last year, however, the state Legislature ended up passing laws banning the sale of smokeable medical cannabis products. The Legislature viewed smoking cannabis a health risk. However, the bill, signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott in June, still allowed patients to use cannabis in food, as an oil or spray, or vaporized.
Just two weeks after Gov. Scott signed the legislation, Orlando attorney John Morgan filed a lawsuit to challenge the smoking ban. Morgan was a key player in the movement to legalize medical cannabis in Florida.
But on Friday, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled that the state’s ban on smokeable medical marijuana violated patients’ constitutional rights, according to the Associated Press
In her 22-page ruling, Judge Grievers wrote that Floridians, “have the right to use the form of medical marijuana for treatment of their debilitating medical conditions as recommended by their certified physicians, including the use of smokable marijuana in private places.”
Florida Court’s Ruling Is Major Win For Medical Cannabis Patients
Despite Judge Griever’s ruling that a ban on smoking medical cannabis was unconstitutional, the Florida Health Department is appealing the ruling. And that appeal has placed a temporary stay on the decision while the state goes through the appeal process.
Still, medical cannabis supporters and patient advocates are praising the judge’s ruling as a major win for patients in Florida.
“Despite legislative pushback over interpretation and ideologies, justice has been served,” said Taylor Patrick Biehl of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida.
In his lawsuit, John Morgan used testimony from two terminally ill patients who say smoking medical cannabis has dramatically improved their quality of life.
Both plaintiffs said in court that currently permitted methods of cannabis consumption are not as effective as smoking.
Diana Dodson, who has been HIV-positive since 1991, testified that vaping cannabis was 50 percent less effective than smoking. She also said that smoking cannabis allows her to use the proper dosage for her symptoms.
Additionally, Cathy Jordan, who has suffered from Lou Gherig’s disease since 1986, says that smoking alone can help her symptoms. ALS patients suffer from excess saliva, low appetite, and muscle pains. Smoking medical cannabis, Jordan testified, dries her excess saliva, increases her appetite and relaxes her muscles.
“This is legitimate medicine,” Jordan told the Orlando Sentinel over the phone. “This ruling is not just for me but for many other people.”
Indeed, Jordan’s husband Bob said he was still in shock after the ruling. “A little women with ALS took on the state and won,” he said. ‘That’s an amazing thing. It is kind of surreal.”
Judge Griever is keeping the Florida appeals courts busy with marijuana cases. Her ruling that a ban on smokeable medical cannabis was unconstitutional is in fact the second medical marijuana case sent to an appeals court this year.
The next stop for the case involving the prohibition on smoking medical cannabis is the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee this year. But Griever’s argument maintains that since the state banned public smoking, smoking in private was implicitly appropriate and consistent with Amendment 2.