Each year, approximately 900,000 to 1 million seasonal residents move to Florida to escape colder climates. And many of those people belong to medical marijuana programs in their home states. Unfortunately for them, Florida does not have reciprocity with other states, meaning that these temporary visitors must either try to become enrolled in Florida’s program, or go without the medication they need. 

“People come to Florida for months at a time, and despite the fact that they have achieved legal adult responsibility to use medical marijuana products in Canada, Maine, Michigan or Pennsylvania, they have to meet a different set of qualifying conditions here,” explained Barry Gordon, M.D., of the Compassionate Cannabis Clinic. “It is critical that doctors realize that these people will experience a certain level of anxiety if they can’t get their medication while they’re in this state.”

Just because a person has a license in a state with a medical marijuana program doesn’t mean that they necessarily qualify in Florida. While the law does allow for the certification of seasonal residents with debilitating illnesses (who must reside within the state of Florida for at least 31 consecutive days each calendar year), it is not always easy to get one.

“It depends on the attitude and interpretation of the law by physicians; I’m personally comfortable admitting a person into the Florida program if their card is from other state—I mean, how couldn’t you?” said Dr. Gordon. “As an advocate and doctor, my role is to educate these patients on the safe and effective use of cannabis; to not serve them isn’t right or moral, and in my opinion, violates the Hippocratic Oath.”

Dr. Gordon is especially concerned that patients who are turned away from Florida’s program have no recourse when it comes to getting the care they need. “They can’t cross state lines with the product, and even if they could, many of them who may be here for six months or more don’t have the money to pay for that much medication at once,” he said.

Another concern is that patients may try to substitute alcohol or other drugs to deal with conditions ranging from PTSD to chronic pain. “The products themselves aren’t on the streets; people can’t get lab-tested strains with higher CBD to lower THC counts that can be delivered topically or through a tincture; these don’t exist on the black market,” he explained, adding that turning to other options is even more dangerous.

“As a 32-year emergency room doctor, I’ve seen the social consequences of abusing opiates and alcohol,” he said. “And cannabis is at the bottom of the list in terms of any long-term damage to the heart, liver or brain; it can’t kill you the way that these other substances can.”

While Dr. Gordon had no intention of becoming such an outspoken proponent of medical cannabis use, he wants other doctors to feel confident to interpret the way the law is written to benefit their patients. 

“This is the battleground I’ve chosen—to push for access and education for patients,” he said. “When a person comes in with anxiety, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to use a safe, plant-based product to help, especially if they already have a card from another state. Why wouldn’t they be able to immediately qualify or to walk into a dispensary?”

Approximately one-third of Compassionate Cannabis Clinic’s patients have never used cannabis before in any form; one-third have used it in the past, usually recreationally, but are not currently using it; and one-third are current users. According to Dr. Gordon, they all have questions and concerns.

“Don’t discriminate, educate,” said Dr. Gordon. “All three groups deserve respect, whether they’re concerned about introducing THC into their lives or are curious about CBD or other cannabinoids. None of this is about getting high; it’s about finding the right medicine to meet the 11 qualifying conditions.

“To make these patients criminals is a tragedy,” he continued, adding that he sees a lot of older veterans who have used cannabis for years to treat chronic pain and are coming into the clinic to make it legal. “Doctors need to do the right thing.” 

To learn more, visit www.Venicecare.comor follow CompassionateCannabisClinicofVenice on Facebook.