BAY COUNTY, Fla. - In 2016, Florida voters approved the distribution and use of medicinal marijuana. But so far those responsible for the program haven't fully implemented the law. There are currently no medical marijuana dispensaries in Bay County. The closest are in Tallahassee or Pensacola. That hasn't deterred locals from seeking the natural benefits of medical marijuana.
"I'm here. I'm here after 11 years of sitting in my house," said Lisa Ruffing.
Cancer, PTSD and anxiety are just some Lisa Ruffing's health problems that led her to believe she would never work again. More than a decade later she's an office manager at Gulf Coast Holistic & Primary Care in Panama City.
"Somebody gave me a chance!" said Ruffing.
She credits medical marijuana.
"It has made such a big difference in my life and working here it makes me see how much it does for many other patients," said Ruffing.
Dr. Raquel Skidmore is one of the only doctors in Bay County who can recommend medical marijuana. While most patients in Bay County pay delivery fees for their prescriptions, Dr. Skidmore made a deal with the Trulieve and Surterra dispensaries. They come a couple times a week and set up in her back office.
"It's a whole lot easier to have all the patients come to one spot to pick up. It saves them money and it saves the delivery people time and money as well," said Ruffing.
When patients come to see Dr. Skidmore they have two out of five options of ways to take medical marijuana. The most popular is either orally or through inhalation.
"The body is designed to heal itself. Fast, 100%. But what does it need? It needs optimal digestion, optimal sleep, optimal blood supply, and optimal mood. Those are the main effects of medical marijuana," said Dr. Skidmore.
A year ago, Dr. Skidmore stopped prescribing traditional pain meds like opioids when she saw how well medical marijuana worked for her patients.
"Patients in chemo are like, 'look my hair hasn't fallen! I'm eating and I'm healthy!'" said Dr. Skidmore.
Lisa Ruffing is also one of her patients. She traded her 15 different types of medication to one, medical marijuana.
"With opiates you can't function half the time because you don't know how it will affect you, and with this I know how this is going to affect me every time," said Ruffing.
In the lobby of the clinic is a board filled with hand written testimony's from some of Dr. Skidmore's 500 patients, one reading 'I got my son back.'
"That's our patients talking. Washington is not hearing that," said Ruffing.
Federally, medical marijuana is still illegal. Even though Florida voters approved it, the state has yet to fully implement the program. The department of health has repeatedly missed implementation deadlines. Last week state lawmakers proposed freezing more than 2-million-dollars of the department's salary and expense funding. Even so, officials from Panama City, Panama City Beach, Lynn Haven, Parker and Bay County cleared the way for future medical marijuana dispensaries. So why aren't there any local dispensaries?
"We've had a couple of phone calls, but I don't think they have been from what I would call serious parties. You have to be inside the marijuana industry whether it be a grower or a dispensary. A regular citizen cannot apply for this they have to be a party in the circle with those folks," said Bay County Commissioner Philip Griffitts.
Griffitts said he had misconceptions about medicinal marijuana, until visiting the Trulieve dispensary in Tallahassee.
"Then you go and you see really the science the technology about what they are doing and it's not a bunch of hippies rolling joints in the back of the room, you kind of come away with a different appreciation of it you are like, okay," said Griffitts.
71 percent of Florida voters approved medical marijuana back in 2016.
"After what I've seen I think it's a natural progression and we are going to see them in Bay County, it may take some time but if it helps people, we are all in favor of it," said Griffitts.
The process to get a medical marijuana card can take several months. Patients need a doctor referral to a physician like Dr. Skidmore, who's licensed to prescribe medical marijuana. That doctor will either approve or reject the patient's request, based on qualifying conditions. If approved, patients pay a 75 dollars state fee and receive their card by mail.
If you think you qualify for medical marijuana, talk to your doctor.
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