Chart: Medical marijuana patient counts surging in Florida

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Despite a shaky rollout, Florida’s full-fledged medical marijuana industry is off to an explosive start.

More than 30,000 patients have enrolled in the MMJ program since June – a 183% increase – and total patient counts will soon eclipse 50,000.

Here’s what you need to know about the situation:

  • Seventy-one percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 2 last November, a ballot initiative authorizing a full-fledged MMJ program in the state. It builds on a previous program that was mainly limited to CBD-based medicine.
  • After struggling to reach a deal regarding rules to govern the new MMJ program, lawmakers ultimately came to an agreement in June. The new MMJ law overrides the previous CBD law and expands the list of qualifying conditions, with doctors given a high degree of flexibility in determining whether a patient qualifies for MMJ. The new agreement also got rid of the 90-day waiting for patients before physicians can order MMJ as treatment.
  • Patient counts have exploded since the new law went into effect, though more physicians are needed if the program is to continue growing at such a rapid rate. Just over 1,000 physicians are currently qualified by the state to recommend medical marijuana. That total will likely increase soon, as a law reducing both the cost and number of hours for physician certification recently went into effect.
  • Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use – which issues patient ID cards – hasn’t been sufficiently staffed to handle the number of patients seeking access to MMJ. Officials report a backlog of up to 6,000 patients at any given time. Despite the hiccups, Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care, expects patient counts to reach 100,000 by March or April 2018.
  • Patient counts will continue to grow as access to MMJ expands. Currently, just 19 dispensaries are open throughout Florida. The law allows for 17 vertically integrated medical cannabis producers, and each is allowed to open 25 dispensaries. For every additional 100,000 patients who register in the MMJ program, four more licenses will be issued and existing licensees will be allowed to open another four dispensaries.
  • To date, 12 MMJ licenses have been issued, as regulators have missed their deadline to award the last five business licenses. A lawsuit challenging the licensing process, Hurricane Irma and insufficient resources were cited by officials as reasons for the delay.

Eli McVey can be reached at