Illustration by Sara Nettle.

Susan Miranda*, a second year student at Santa Fe College, was driving home one night when she was stopped for a broken headlight. Soon after Miranda handed the officer her license and registration, she was told that she needed to step out of her car — the officer smelled pot and needed to search it.

“I had to think fast at that moment and just give [the officer] her everything,” Miranda said.

She was charged for carrying paraphernalia and just over an eighth of an ounce of pot.

As the officer patted her down, Miranda started to cry.

“I felt like I was treated as a violent criminal,” she said. “When I cried the officer said to me, ‘You’re lucky. You could’ve gone to jail tonight.’”

Because Miranda cooperated with law enforcement, she avoided jail time and was instead issued a court date, fined $100 and ultimately sentenced to community service.

A month after Miranda was charged for possession, over 71 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 2, legalizing medical marijuana and prompting dispensaries to open across the state.

In early 2017, the Florida Department of Health released proposed regulations that would implement the amendment. The proposed rules would allow only certain companies that pass a strict application process to grow and dispense medical marijuana in the state. They would also limit physician’s freedom to prescribe medical marijuana, restricting them to the “debilitating conditions” listed in Amendment 2. However, until the Florida Department of Health releases its official regulations this summer, dispensaries, businesses and those in need of medical marijuana will be left in the dark.

A similar measure to Amendment 2 was placed on the ballot two years ago, but it failed after millions of dollars were pumped into multiple anti-marijuana campaigns, which were supported by a hash of everyone from Debbie Wasserman Schultz to the Florida Sheriff’s Association. The president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, Sheriff Grady Judd from Polk County, argued that the 2014 amendment would lead to weed shops opening up next to elementary schools.

“I felt like I was treated as a violent criminal,” she said. “When I cried the officer said to me, ‘You’re lucky. You could’ve gone to jail tonight.’”

Anti-marijuana advocates attempted a similar strategy in 2016, but the broad language of the proposed 2014 amendment had changed to include specific criteria for the permissible use of cannabis and what conditions warrant reasonable use. It also includes clauses that require minors to have parental consent. The conditions listed in the new measure are cancer, epilepsy, HIV, PTSD and ALS, among others.

In the first grade, Miranda began to show signs of an anxiety disorder. She would pull her hair, to point that she would have bald spots on her eyelashes. She tried to hide her hair pulling, but the symptoms still continued.

In 11th grade, Miranda started using marijuana to alleviate her symptoms and hasn’t found anything that’s worked better since.

It is unclear, however, whether anxiety or any other mental health conditions will be considered permissible under the amendment’s “debilitating medical conditions” clause, which allows room for additional conditions to be added as long as they are “of the same kind or class as or comparable” as those already listed.

John L. Mills, a law professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, co-authored Amendment 2. He said the provisions that made it difficult for the amendment to gain political support in 2014 — like those detailing which conditions qualify for medical marijuana — were the ones that changed in 2016. The change, however, made the provision narrower, limiting the use of medical cannabis in the state.

“Well, right now we’re waiting for the legislature to act,” Mills said, urging the regulations to be released quickly.

The current regulations come from a 2014 law that was designed to protect individuals who possessed the low THC/ high CBD strain term “Charlotte’s Web”that aids patients who experience epileptic seizures caused by Dravet syndrome, a neurologic condition.

The same law carved out Florida into five selling regions and established guidelines that allowed only one applying dispensary per region to have the ability to process and serve patients seeking medical marijuana.

Adam Sharon, director of public relations and communication for Knox Medical, said the application was over 70 pages long and required applicants to meet prerequisites like being a nursery that tends to plants and has been established for over thirty years.

“The application process to become a license holder in Florida was very long, complicated and expensive,” he said.

As medical marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, it’s not known if businesses can terminate employees for testing positive for marijuana.

In 2014, Knox Medical—which recently opened off 34th Street—began serving patients who had epilepsy and other similar conditions. The finished prescription is a highly processed, scientifically rendered-down version of cannabis. The new facility in Gainesville will likely continue to sell marijuana in this manner, with an exception for cancer patients.

“We have to follow the laws,” Sharon said.

Currently, for Miranda to qualify for medical marijuana she must pay a $75 processing fee and register with the state Compassionate Use Registry by an approved physician. The Compassionate Use Registry is an online database of registered medical marijuana users that is accessible by physicians, dispensary staff and law enforcement.

If certain proposed measures in the legislature pass, Miranda would have to petition the Florida Board of Medicine to obtain a marijuana card. If approved, she’ll receive a Compassionate Use Registry identification card which will last approximately one year after her physician’s initial order. She’ll need to renew her application 45 days before its expiration date.

As medical marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, it’s not known if businesses can terminate employees for testing positive for marijuana.

Miranda, who still must pay a fee for her possession charge last fall, hopes that the new law will allow her to find the help she needs.

“What I really wish is that since it’s already legal, I would be wiped of all of this completely.” •    

*Miranda’s name has been changed.