More Floridians turning to medical marijuana
TAMPA (FOX 13) - It's sold in vapes, oils, creams and pills. In Florida, more than 50 pounds of medical marijuana trades hands at dispensaries every week.
"I have disc degeneration disease in my neck and my back, I have pinched nerves, and I’m constantly in pain," medical marijuana patient Gina Smith said.
Smith traded pharmaceuticals for the legal drug, and says it takes away her chronic pain. She is one of nearly 100,000 medical marijuana patients now registered across the Sunshine State.
"Medical marijuana honestly is a very big help and it's probably the best thing for me," said Brian Westin, a medical marijuana patient.
Voters legalized marijuana for medical use back in 2016. Data from the State Health Department's Office of Medical Marijuana Use shows thousands of new users are being registered each week. However, slow movement by state regulators has kept the industry from booming like predicted.
"The numbers are low,” said Christopher Cano, executive director for the Central Florida Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “They're only about a quarter of what they should be, and the reason for that is because of the barriers to entry to becoming a patient."
Right now, it takes just over two weeks for officials to process new applications, maintaining a medical marijuana ID card can be expensive, and dispensaries are cash-only businesses.
"There is a lot that needs to be done out here to make Florida’s medical marijuana system patient focused and patient centric," Cano said.
The latest speed bump is over the state Legislature's ban on smokable medical marijuana flowers. Late last month, a circuit court judge ruled it was unconstitutional. Since then it's been a back-and-forth legal battle.
But even medical marijuana patients in the state don’t agree about letting people smoke the drug.
"There's a lot of people that just prefer the flower and I feel like they should be able to have it, have access to it just like the rest of the states," said Westin.
"I don't think it’s necessary,” Smith said. “I think it’s more discreet when it's used in other manners. And the smell, children question, so I don't think it’s necessary."
Florida is one of 28 states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. The drug is still considered an illegal substance at the federal level.