The Marco Island City Council will vote Monday on a resolution to provide regulations to medical marijuana dispensing facilities.
The resolution, if approved as is, would take effect immediately upon adoption.
In November 2016, more than 70 percent of Floridians voted in favor of amending the state constitution to expand medical marijuana access to a larger list of medical conditions. In Marco Island, 60 percent voted in favor.
“The purpose of the resolution will be to make clear the city’s position that medical cannabis dispensaries are allowed and must be treated as pharmacies pursuant to Florida law,” said councilor Jared Grifoni in an email to the Marco Eagle.
“It also states that a citywide ban would be an unreasonable restriction on patients and would be a discriminatory act against a legal medicinal and economic activity,” Grifoni said.
The closest medical marijuana dispensing facilities are in Bonita Springs, 30 miles away from Marco Island, leaving medical marijuana patients with two options: drive or have the products delivered.
But these options are not enough for some Islanders who need medical marijuana to improve their health and overall quality of life.
Kerry (Grganto) Wallace, a Marco Island resident, said that she can’t physically drive long distances after being hospitalized for three weeks and that delivery is not always the best option.
Wallace was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a disease in which the stomach cannot empty itself of food due to nerve damage. She has to be connected 12 hours a day to a machine that feeds her nutrients, bypassing her stomach, because she can’t process solids.
Wallace’s medical condition makes her unable drive to Bonita Springs and she said that delivery is not an option; saying medical marijuana deliveries can take up to a week.
“If the order happens to be wrong or something is broken, they have to drive back,” Wallace said.
Wallace claims that when she calls to make an order, medical marijuana dispensaries can take up to an hour to take her call and complete her order.
“That’s frustrating,” Wallace said.
Wallace moved from Chicago to Marco Island in 2016 after Florida statues authorized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
“I almost died in 2016 going undiagnosed […] for 6 months and we decided […] that Marco Island would be a better place for a warmer second chance at life,” Wallace said.
Wallace said that she didn’t want to rely on opioids because she has seen how harmful they can be.
“I don’t want to go through the dark path of opioids,” Wallace said. “I would choose medical marijuana in a heartbeat.”
“Without medical marijuana I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed,” Wallace said.
Wallace’s doctors hope that medical marijuana will help her gain weight by reducing the inflammation that keeps her stomach and digestive system from working properly.
Wallace currently can’t commit to any employer due to her medical condition so she volunteers for a local non-profit from the safety of her home.
“My diseases have become debilitating enough for me not being able to work,” Wallace said.
A friend of Wallace started an online fundraiser to help her cover the medical costs that her medical insurance is unwilling to cover. The goal is to raise $5,000 and, as of Thursday morning, they were half-way there.
Wallace said her doctors believe that side effects of antidepressants may have caused her illness. She also said that medical marijuana could have prevented her from needing antidepressants in the first place.
“Medical cannabis could have helped me avoid this completely,” Wallace said.
Joey Waves, a business owner, tells a similar story about medical marijuana delivery services.
Waves said that, when medical marijuana was first approved in Florida, he benefited from next-day delivery services. Now he said he has to wait three to four days for a delivery.
“It used to be quick but not anymore,” Waves said. “It’s like telling people to wait three days to get their prescription from Walgreens.”
Waves also said that sometimes the products he needs are not available for delivery.
Waves suffers from anxiety and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after witnessing the murder of a friend. He said taking the sedative Xanax made him feel “like a zombie.”
“I don’t take medical prescriptions anymore, just medical marijuana,” Waves said.
He now drives 45 minutes to Bonita Springs to get the medical marijuana products he needs.
Doctor James J. Faremouth, a board-certified family physician in Naples, said that medical marijuana delivery is not an option for first-time medical marijuana patients.
“The problem (with medical marijuana delivery) is that in order to find the right dose of cannabis, you have to go in person to the dispensary,” Faremouth said. “There is 300 (marijuana) plant species that have different components and qualities that affect each person differently.”
“It’s not a one size fit all,” Faremouth said.
City Council chairperson, Erik Brechnitz, said in a phone interview to the Eagle that he doesn’t want Marco Island to follow the steps of other states and cities where the approval of medical marijuana has been followed by the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.
Brechnitz also said Marco Islanders should ask themselves if they want the island to have the only medical marijuana dispensaries in south Collier County.
As for Wallace, she expects to be attached to a feeding tube for the next six months and will continue to rely on the delivery services of the medical marijuana dispensaries in Bonita Springs.
“I want people to know that (we) are not criminals, that we are normal people that need this,” Wallace said.
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