Florida judge lifts stay on smokable medical marijuana

Floridians allowed to use medical marijuana are one step closer to being able to smoke it.

Leon County circuit court Judge Karen Gievers on Tuesday lifted a stay on her May 25 ruling that the Florida Legislature's provision banning smokable medical marijuana is unconstitutional. The state's Department of Health had filed an appeal of Gievers' ruling, which automatically put it on hold. Attorney John Morgan and two patients with terminal illnesses then filed an appeal of that stay.

The stay will officially be lifted on June 11. Gievers wrote that delaying her ruling any further would create irreparable harm to patients.

She also wrote that the stay returns the law to its previous state after voters approved a constitutional amendment in November 2016 allowing the use of medical marijuana.

When the Legislature passed the laws to enact the amendment last year, they included a section banning the sale of products used to smoke marijuana, citing health risks. The laws, signed by Gov. Rick Scott last June, state that patients can use cannabis through vaping and in food, oils, sprays and tinctures.

Morgan, who led the push for the constitutional amendment, filed a lawsuit challenging the ban two weeks after Scott signed the bill. He was joined in the suit by Cathy Jordan and Diana Dodson, who say that smoking medical marijuana has prolonged their lives.

In her four-page ruling, Gievers cited the harm that could be caused to Jordan, who has had ALS since 1986, and Dodson, who has had HIV since 1991, if the stay was extended.

"First, they cannot legally access the treatment recommended for them. Second, they face potential criminal prosecution for possession and use of the medicinal substance," she wrote.

Morgan asked Gov. Scott on Tuesday via social media to drop his appeals.

"Every day you waste taxpayers' money with this frivolous appeal sick people, veterans, cops, firefighters and cancer patients suffer!" Morgan wrote on Twitter. "Where is your compassion man?"

Even with the stay being lifted, smokable medical marijuana will not immediately be available for sale at treatment centers. That's because the Department of Health must come up with rules to cultivate, distribute and sell, which could take several months.

As of last Friday there were 117,522 patients and 2,644 doctors in the state's medical marijuana registry. The Department of Health also says that 94,023 patients have received their ID cards, which allow them to receive cannabis at state-approved treatment centers.

Florida Department of Health spokesman Devin Galetta said in a statement that department officials are reviewing the ruling. Any further appeal would be heard in the state's 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

The health department is involved in six other cases dealing with medical marijuana, ranging from the process of awarding treatment center licenses to allowing a Tampa man to grow it at home for juicing.