Everything You Need to Know About Legal Weed in Florida

Things are moving—slowly.

florida weed
Emily Carpenter and Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Getting marijuana in Florida has come a long way since it was the exclusive domain of fine gentlemen strolling Ocean Drive mumbling “weedcoke” to unwitting tourists. Now, there are literally ads for weed on top of taxi cabs. Since Florida voters passed Amendment Two, legalizing medicinal marijuana in 2016, ads for marijuana doctors are popping up in local weeklies, on cabs, and even on billboards. But don’t let them fool you—we are a long way from becoming Colorado, and like pretty much everything in Florida there are still befuddling questions about how the whole thing works. For instance: Who are these doctors on the taxis, and how can I get them to write me a prescription? Where can I buy it? Do they have Taco Bells nearby? And, most importantly, do they deliver?

To help iron it out, we talked to a few experts with intimate knowledge of the subject. Robert Chavez, an executive healthcare consultant formerly with the University of Miami Health System; Steve Berke, CEO of Bang Holdings, a publicly traded cannabis ad-tech company; seniors marijuana activist Robert Platshorn; Dustin Robinson, Founder of Mr. Cannabis psychedelic and cannabis law firm; and attorney Daniel Russell who has represented, among others, the Florida Lottery and Gulfstream Park. They gave us the skinny on who qualifies for medicinal marijuana, who can sell it, and what else to expect from medical marijuana in Florida in 2022 and beyond.

How do I get a prescription for medical marijuana?

This is one of the few parts of the law that’s pretty straightforward. You, the patient, go to a doctor who’s state certified to prescribe medicinal marijuana (more on those later). These are the guys you see advertising as “pot docs” on billboards, who charge anywhere from $150 - $250 for an examination. You must show you have one of the approved conditions, and, more importantly, that you’ve tried other treatments that haven’t worked. This prevents you from inventing “anxiety” to get legal weed—like you might do to get a support hamster on an airplane.

If the doctor signs off, you send your application and a check for $75 to the Florida Department of Health, which within a few weeks sends you a card you can take into a dispensary to purchase your pot. Once you have said card you’re placed on the Compassionate Use Registry, basically a list of all the people in the state who have been prescribed marijuana. Your prescription is only good for 30 weeks, at which point you’ll need a doctor to sign off again. After one year you’ll need to have another in-person examination, which will cost you another $250 or so.

What are the approved conditions?

Strolling into the local pot doc and saying you have “chronic pain” like it’s the golden era of pill mills ain’t happening. Medicinal marijuana treatment is limited to a few conditions, specifically ALS, anxiety, anorexia, arthritis, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis (MS).

The law also allows for “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class,” meaning, for example, if you have an autoimmune condition like lupus, a doctor could prescribe marijuana for that. The caveat is meant for people with less common conditions, and is not broad language designed to allow doctors to prescribe for anything. You do actually have to be sick.

How do doctors qualify to prescribe medical marijuana?

Chavez told us that anyone with a medical degree and at least one year of post-graduate residency qualified for a medical license, and therefore could prescribe medicinal marijuana after completing the state-mandated two-hour course. God bless Florida. You can search for approved doctors here.

Where can I buy medical marijuana in Florida?

Just because you have a medicinal card doesn’t mean you can just call up your source down in Kendall and it’s all hunky-dory with the cops. You can only buy medical marijuana in Florida at a state-approved dispensary. There are over 450 statewide (even in the panhandle), run by 22 licensed companies. You must buy from one of them, or you can be cited by police even if your marijuana is legally prescribed. Get pulled over with your state-approved THC oil, and you’ll need to show the cops your card AND proof you bought it at a licensed dispensary, or it’s a long night of bologna sandwiches and ice-cold AC for you.

What kind of edibles can I get?

Florida finally got around to issuing rules for edibles in August of 2020, which regulate everything from the shape and color of an edible to its potency. Allowable THC foods include gummies, losenges, baked goods, chocolates, and drink powders. Each one must be single serve, and cannot contain more than 10 mg of THC. “Big deal,” you say, “I’ll just stock up on 10 mg gummies, take five of them, and pretend it’s freshmen year.” Not so fast. The state is on to your little math problem and limits each package of edibles to 200 mg of THC total.

And because it’s the Florida government, they’ve also taken all the “fun” out of edibles, not allowing any logos or branding on them. Nor can gummies resemble anything close to a bear or Swedish fish. Fair enough, lest your kids find them and get confused.

Will insurance pay for medical marijuana?

Nope. And neither will Medicare or Medicaid. Straight cash, homie. Or maybe a credit card if you want to rack up some frequent flier miles.

Can I open a dispensary?

You cannot. Okay, technically, yes you can, but technically you can also play right field for the Marlins. And that might actually be more likely. When the law first passed, the state mandated that anyone selling medicinal marijuana had to run the entire process, from growing and extracting to selling. And the whole vertically integrated shebang fell under one license. Guess how many licenses were allotted in the third-most populous state in the country? Seven. And to prevent hucksters from coming down to Florida and immediately becoming farmers, the state also said applicants had to be in business for 30 years (!) to qualify.

That part of the law was struck down when a group of black farmers sued, and since then the state has expanded its licenses to a whopping 22. Another round of applications are opening up this November, according to Robinson, and another 22 licenses will be available. Stay tuned.

The licenses have become hugely valuable, sometimes going on the secondary market for as much as $65 million. If you don’t have that kind of cash, Berke says you’re SOL in the pot game. “This is not a mom-and-pop industry,” he said. “It’s all Wall Street money and public companies with billion-dollar valuations entering the market now. Everyone else has missed the boat.”

Am I allowed to grow my own medical marijuana?

Not unless you’ve got $65 million and a state license.

Can my employer fire me for using medical marijuana?

Some states have statues saying employers cannot terminate someone for using medically prescribed marijuana. But if you know anything about Florida, you know employee protections aren’t nearly as high a priority as, say, offensive math problems. So we do not have said protections. Still, Robinson says that doesn’t necessarily mean you have no recourse. “In Florida, we don’t have a specific statute, so it means you can fire someone,” he says. “But I think it’s a gray area. I’ve represented multiple employees who’ve been terminated for medical marijuana and they all settled.”

How does this affect stuff like background checks and federal benefits?

Veterans, many of whom suffer from PTSD, are especially concerned with the ramifications of medical marijuana. As the law stands now, even if veterans have legally prescribed marijuana for that condition, they might be stripped of their benefits because the drug is still federally illegal. This varies from case to case, however.

Having a medical marijuana card does not immediately preclude you from owning a gun, either. When you purchase a new firearm, question 11E on your firearm transactions record asks if you consume illegal substances, with a big fat asterisk noting this includes medical marijuana that is legal in your state. Check yes, and you’re disqualified from owning a firearm. Of course, this is Florida, so there’s a sketchy workaround if you still want to buy a gun. “Buy a used gun,” says Robinson. “Or stop using it before you get a new gun.”

Is recreational weed coming to Florida anytime soon?

According to Robinson, Truelive, who owns a plurality of the dispensaries in Florida, recently put $5 million towards a potential 2024 ballot initiative in Florida to legalize adult use of marijuana in Florida. He believes this is a pretty good sign considering a) it immediately out fundraises previous initiatives by about $4.8 million and b) the funding was for a single-topic constitutional measure, which he says are far more likely to pass.

In sticking to a single issue, though, it means stuff like home growing will have to wait for another time. This still isn’t Oregon, so we’ve gotta take baby steps. But if the day comes when the Ocean Drive sidewalk entrepreneurs are replaced by big green neon crosses, it’ll be yet another reason for many locals to avoid it like the plague. But for others, it’ll be yet another reason Miami is such a fantastic place to visit—not to mention the art of sneaking weed onto an airplane. And if nothing else, it will make for some fantastic ads.

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Matt Meltzer is a freelance journalist based in Florida. And no, he does NOT miss the seasons. Follow him on Instagram.