April 4, 2018

Physicians who are certified by the Florida Department of Health can register patients for medical marijuana.

JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY Physicians who are certified by the Florida Department of Health can register patients for medical marijuana.

MONROE COUNTY — When Florida called for wider use of medical marijuana in a November 2016 referendum landslide, Florida Keys voters stood in the advocacy vanguard.  

More than 80 percent of the Monroe County voters — 33,798 people — cast ballots favoring Amendment 2 to the Florida Constitution. Statewide, the medical-marijuana amendment passed with 71 percent of the vote.

Sixteen months later, effects of that vote are becoming more visible in the Keys.

The Iona Cannabis Clinic, a branch of a Fort Myers facility, recently opened in an Islamorada plaza at mile marker 81 to schedule advance appointments with Dr. Gregory Sonn, a physician with state authority to enter patients into the medical-marijuana registry so they can obtain the drug. 

“This is not a dispensary,” Tracy Timura, the clinic’s local director, said. “We are not selling marijuana. Dispensaries and medical facilities are completely separate.” 

Keys residents with approval to purchase medical marijuana now can travel to a mainland dispensary, or have it delivered directly by courier.  

Physicians who attend medical-marijuana educational courses are certified by the Florida Department of Health to register patients with specific diseases or conditions for marijuana use. Those conditions include cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.

The current list of 1,269 certified physicians posted by the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use shows five Key West doctors and three Key Largo doctors have been certified to write marijuana recommendations for patients. Other local physicians may be listed separately under their medical specialties with no address posted.  

In Monroe County and most Keys municipalities, elected officials imposed temporary moratoriums on opening medical-marijuana dispensaries following the 2016 vote, citing the need to establish regulations and proper zoning for dispensaries.

Monroe County’s dispensary moratorium adopted in February 2017 remains in effect until October, unless the county commission “extends it or cuts it short,” County Attorney Bob Shillinger said in an email. 

The Marathon City Council last October approved, on a 4-1 vote, an ordinance that would allow a medical-marijuana dispensary to apply for a commercial permit in mixed-use zoning, with rules specifying that it must be at least 500 feet from any school. Information on whether any applications have been submitted was not available at press time. 

Islamorada Village Manager Seth Lawless said that municipality’s moratorium on dispensaries remains in effect.  

The Iona Cannabis Clinic holds its grand-opening event on April 20, a “420” date recognized by many supporters of loosening marijuana rules.  

“Dr. Sonn has been treating chronically ill patients for more than 20 years,” Timura said, “and has always been a proponent of treatment through natural medicine and lifestyle modification.

“He believes in being able to give the best available therapy,” she said, “especially if it allows patients to have the quality of life they would like while avoiding the major side effects that some pharmaceuticals can cause.”

Under Florida law, medical marijuana cannot be produced in a form that can be inhaled or smoked. 

“These products look like medicine,” Timura said. “There’s no confusing it with the stuff people can buy in Colorado.”

For more information on Florida’s medical-marijuana laws, visit flhealth.gov/ommu.