FL: Clinic Clears Patients For Medical Marijuana

Photo Credit: Peter Willott

Robert Elkins was a longtime orthopedic physician looking for a way to remain in health care, just at a slower pace and more on his own terms. So, after doing some research, the 77-year-old Elkins decided to dip his toe into the emerging field of medical marijuana.

The state of Florida approved the use of cannabis for certain medical conditions in 2016 and expanded those parameters in 2017. This has paved the way for many entrepreneurial ventures, from cultivating the product, to selling it and — in Elkin’s case — qualifying people to be added to the state registry of legal consumers.

Elkins and his domestic partner, Roberta Kaye, who both live in St. Augustine, opened the Cannabis Certification Clinic on April 1. The clinic’s offices are on the third floor of the Whetstone Building surrounded by other medical providers. And indeed, the offices look like, well, any other doctors’. There are a few art photographs of pot plants and buds on the walls, but there is no tie-dyed tapestry, no Rastafarian reggae music piping through the speakers.

Before he’ll examine them, Elkins (not just half-kiddingly) tells potential patients he doesn’t give out free samples.

The second is that if they’ve come looking for a free pass to get high, they’ll have better luck on the street. Though he will recommend some clients for a supply of cannabis that does contain the euphoria-producing chemical, THC, it is almost always mixed with CBD, the plant’s non-high compound.

“It’s not like we’re talking about someone falling down the steps stoned; it’s about relaxing,” Elkins said.

To see Elkins, a patient has to first prove they have a qualifying condition under Florida state law. Some of these include: glaucoma, epilepsy, PTSD, cancer and chronic pain. It is illegal to misrepresent symptoms or falsify medical records, so Elkins examines both a patient’s documentation as well as his or her physical condition. If he is satisfied the client would truly be helped by using cannabis to alleviate pain and anxiety, Elkins will enter his or her name and identifying information onto a state registry and give them directions to two legal dispensaries in Jacksonville.

So called “pot doctors” don’t write a typical prescription, with the dose in milligrams, the route of administration and number of pills spelled out. The amount of marijuana consumed is entirely up to the patient, Elkins said.

“You can take eight pounds a day or you can vape it a little bit by bit,” said Elkins. “You can do whatever you want with it.”

Kaye, a retired psychologist, serves as the clinic’s director of education, and it’s her job to advise patients on their options, from certain blends of marijuana to the alternatives of consuming it. One person may want to bake pot brownies, another rub it on their skin as a topical oil. What is not allowed under Florida law is smoking it in any form.

There is, of course, money to be made in the world of medically legal cannabis. The dispensaries themselves operate like retail shops with their own branding and pricing of the product. Elkins charges $250 for the first visit. There’s another $100 fee if the patient opts to have a follow-up appointment 70 days later when their prescription is up for refill. Two refills are allowed before the patient has to be recertified by the state. The state requires a $75 fee for registration and an ID card.

So far, the clinic has seen just about a dozen patients, both scheduled appointments and walk-ins. But Elkins says it’s a matter of time before the public learns more about the naturally therapeutic benefits of marijuana, especially for those caught in the cycle of opioid painkillers.

“Everybody’s got this image of someone under a bridge toking away,” said Elkins, “but I think that is starting to change.”