TAMPA (WFLA) – More than 50,000 patients in Florida have applied for medical marijuana use ID cards.
For most of 2017, the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) handed them out at a snail’s pace.
Christian Bax, director of the OMMU, told a recent legislative hearing that once his office has received an application, it takes 30 days to process.
That’s not what Janice Michalski of Pinellas County found. Janice has lived with significant pain for 20 years. She waited two months for the state to process her ID card.
Other patients we’ve spoken to say their waits are two to three months, if not longer.
“The patients are the ones that are suffering,” said St. Petersburg physician Dr. Lora Brown.
The bottleneck is at OMMU, the office charged with writing and implementing rules for medical marijuana.
“We have patients with cancer, we have patients with you know long-time serious chronic diseases that are desperate to start this new therapy and it’s unfortunate that they’re having to wait,” added Dr. Brown.
According to the Florida Department of Health, 50,284 patients are in the Medical Marijuana Patient Registry. The OMMU has issued 29,778 ID cards.
“In private business if you had a backlog like this, you’d work at night, you would open up on Saturday, you’d open up on Sunday, you’d get it done,” said attorney John Morgan, who spearheaded the effort to legalize medical marijuana during the last election. Amendment 2, which expanded the use of the drug was approved by 71 percent of the voters.
According to Christian Bax, there are reasons for delays. The state encourages patients to fill out applications online, but it doesn’t accept online payments. Patients must send a check.
The Department of Health doesn’t have the ability to mass produce ID cards.
Until October, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use had as few as three full-time employees.
“If Rick Scott wants to fire him (Christian Bax) I’ll go up there for free and I’ll bring a whole team of people in and it won’t be eight people, it’ll be 30 people and I’ll have the cards all handed out within 14 days,” vowed Morgan.
According to John Morgan, the ID card delay pushes patients to opioids, which lines the pockets of pharmaceutical companies, which he points out, contribute heavily to political campaigns.
Increasing her opioid use is something Janice Michalski is trying to avoid.
“Being on opiods right now, the only way is to go up to keep the pain away,” explained Janice.
John Morgan blames Governor Scott for tolerating the delay.
“How long do you think he would’ve ever made people wait for the pharmacy in one of his for-profit hospitals?” asked Morgan. “This is why people despise politicians, because despite 71 percent of Florida (voting in favor of Amendment 2 last November) the politicians have said, ‘We didn’t hear you, and you’re going to get it when we’re good and ready.”
The Florida Department of Health did not provide anyone to speak about this issue on camera. It also does not keep track of how many applications actually took longer than 30 days to process.
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