Three Keys doctors qualify to prescribe medical marijuana – legal in one month

With the passing of Amendment 2 on Nov. 8, Florida residents suffering from debilitating medical disease may seek out medicinal marijuana as a form of treatment. Beginning on Jan. 3, physicians who have completed training with the Florida Medical Association, and are qualified by the state, will be able to prescribe patients medical marijuana. In Monroe County, there are three so far.

Key Largo’s Dr. Bobbie Krause Leben and Dr. Ian Rae, and Tavernier’s Sandra Schwemmer, can use medical marijuana to treat such diseases as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. It also is said to help anxiety and a variety of depression symptoms. Statewide, about 200 doctors have qualified to prescribe medical marijuana.

“I view it as another option for treating people with pain,” said Dr. Leben, who specializes in non-surgical orthopedics. “For example, arthritis causes inflammation. If a patient couldn’t take anti inflammation medication because of kidney disease, they now have another tool for fighting pain. It’s also a way to treat pain without the side effects that opioids might have, like constipation and dizziness.”

But there are steps in place to assure only patients who truly need medical marijuana receive it. Leben said she is required to submit patient dosing records and other record notes every quarter. And, patients shouldn’t expect to walk into a doctor’s office and walk out with a prescription; there could be up to a three-month period where patients are monitored. The patients must be listed on a “Compassionate Use” registry.

The Compassionate Use registry is sort of like a paperless prescription registry. 

While the amendment has passed, the rules and regulations that would govern it have not. Here’s what is known: According to the Department of Health, three entities have qualified to cultivate marijuana, and three have qualified to dispense marijuana, including Miami’s Modern Health Clinics. While Surterra Therapeutics has a storefront in Tampa, and Trulieve has two locations open, the dispensing clinics are authorized to mail the product. The product will never be “whole flower” — medical marijuana is not a bud. Instead, the dispensing clinics offer sprays, oils, capsules and vapors.

The widening scope of qualifying patients will allow patients with a more generalized diagnosis to be treated. Leben said she expects the transition from amendment to reality to go smoothly.

“Research also shows low abuse potential in marijuana users compared to opioids. I’m optimistic the new policies should roll out smoothly because of the extra oversight and low abuse rates,” said Leben.

For more information about medical marijuana, visit, click on programs and services, and then click on Office of Compassionate Use.

If a patient is suffering from a condition determined to be terminal by two physicians, he or she may qualify for medical cannabis. This product can contain significant levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC and may produce the “high” commonly associated with cannabis. Current law states that says a municipality may determine the criteria for the number and location of dispensaries.

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