If John Morgan wins his “no smoke is a joke” lawsuit, Florida patients would be permitted to smoke medical marijuana. Why would that be a big deal?
Morgan led the campaign to persuade voters to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. Now the attorney is fighting a court battle to overturn the state law that excludes smoking marijuana as a medical treatment.
If he’s successful, the most immediate impact would be whole flower cannabis appearing in medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs) facilities throughout Florida.
Today, a patient who walks into a MMTC dispensing facility has access to a range of routes of administration including topical cremes, tinctures, pills and oils. However, the most iconic commercial symbols of legalization — glass jars filled with cannabis flower — are missing.
But that would quickly change if Morgan wins.
Flowers would become one of the top-selling products overnight. While consumption of edible and liquid forms of cannabis are growing increasingly popular, smokable cannabis still makes up more than 40 percent of cannabis sales in states like Colorado and Oregon. Without legal edibles yet, this percentage could be significantly larger in Florida.
There would be other impacts, as well.
Smokable cannabis is popular with patients in other states because it is familiar, can be absorbed quickly and — very importantly — is comparatively cheap. Consequently, if Mr. Morgan wins, it would have important ramifications for the price of cannabis.
Virtually all cannabis products for sale to patients in Florida require an extra step of processing or manufacturing not required by the whole flower. Removing that extra layer of expense means the entire flower would be less expensive. If Florida mirrors other medical marijuana markets such as Colorado or Oregon, MMTCs will reach a critical mass of production that drives down prices for smokable cannabis as licensed businesses become more efficient and ramp up production.
A victory by Mr. Morgan would also come with some challenges. For example, Florida law specifically prevents MMTCs from selling pipes, bongs or wrapping papers – exactly what a patient would use to smoke medical marijuana.
Additionally, the sale of whole flower would complicate the already difficult task law enforcement has of policing a grey area. Right now, police can usually look at a marijuana product’s packaging or container to determine if it came from a MMTC. However, it will be nearly impossible for officers to tell the difference between legal and black-market whole flower product.
Smoking also presents a new challenge to physicians, who are the medical marijuana gate-keepers for patients under Florida law. Unlike many other medical marijuana markets, Florida requires physicians to dose medical marijuana with specificity and to designate the milligrams per dose, dose per day, and the number of days of each recommendation.
Traditional medications are not typically smoked. If Mr. Morgan wins, it remains to be seen how many Florida physicians will climb the learning curve of dosing smokable medical marijuana, and how many of those will recommend smoking as a preferred route of administration. If I had to bet, though, there will be enough physicians willing to recommend the smokable product to make it viable.
The bottom line: A victory for Mr. Morgan would send an important signal regarding the direction of Florida’s medical marijuana program. As a state, we can debate about whether that would be a good change or a bad change, but it is hard to argue that it wouldn’t be a significant one.
Christian Bax is an attorney and consultant who served as the Director of the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use for three years. As the Director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, Bax oversaw the construction and deployment of the statewide Medical Marijuana Use Registry, implemented the state’s patient identification card program and served as the Department’s subject matter expert in cannabis regulation.