TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Medical marijuana patients in Florida who are already experiencing long delays in receiving their identification cards are in for more bad news.
A company that was not selected to take over processing and manufacturing the cards has filed a protest over the process. Automated Health Systems filed the challenge Wednesday after the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use notified finalists Monday that it intended to award the contract to Veritec Solutions LLC.
The challenge means that the department will continue issuing cards, much to the frustration of patients, caregivers and legislators.
“We are very disappointed in the delay that this will put in outsourcing our card program. We will continue to do everything in our power to process card applications as quickly as possible to serve Florida’s patients,” Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambinieri said.
Christian Bax, who is the executive director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, said earlier this week before the Senate’s Health Policy committee that 20,000 patients have received their cards, which is less than half of the 46,952 now in the registry. According to patients, the wait for cards ranges anywhere from 35 to 90 days.
Lauren Drake of Milford, whose parents both have cancer, said it took 66 days for them to receive their identification cards.
“It is frustrating to the point where you want to give up at times, but you can’t,” she said.
Identification cards for patients were part of a law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June. The state revised the laws after voters last November passed a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana.
Patients who suffered from epilepsy, chronic muscle spasms, cancer and terminal conditions were allowed under laws Scott signed in 2014 and 2016 to receive either low-THC cannabis or full strength medical marijuana. Amendment 2 added people with HIV and AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and similar conditions.
With the added conditions, the state’s patient registry is seeing an average of 300 people added per day.
“There certainly have been logistical problems as we deal with a significant increase to the pool of patients. Once we will be able to move forward with an outside vendor who can produce cards at a faster speed, it will be a significant improvement,” Bax said.
Bax told legislators that cards are being processed in an average of 30 days, but there have been very few instances of that happening. State Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat from Plantation, said she has gone through the process herself and that it took three months to receive her card.
“Unfortunately, my process is not unique. It is impossible to get anyone with the office to see status of applications or what might be delaying them,” Book said. “It is very disappointing and sad how long people are waiting.”
Legislators may introduce a bill during the upcoming session that would allow patients to receive a limited supply of cannabis once they are entered into the registry.
ID cards aren’t the only headaches Bax’s office is dealing with. The awarding of five new medical marijuana treatment center licenses was not done by the Oct. 3 statutory deadline. Bax was grilled by legislators over why the deadline was missed.