Marijuana is one of the newest drugs approved for medical treatment in Florida, but there’s only one way someone can pay for it – cash.
Unlike other drugs that can be picked up at a pharmacy, patients have to go to a licensed dispensary to purchase medical marijuana. There are more than a half dozen of them in South Florida.
Inside each of those dispensaries, you will find an ATM machine. There is a reason for it.
While the state of Florida allows the use of medical marijuana, the federal government does not. That means a patient cannot use a credit card to buy the drug.
“It’s not cheaper for me but it’s healthier for me,” said Zoey Brown, a Miami resident who got her medical marijuana card last year.
She says she was diagnosed with PTSD and OCD.
Brown spends about 30 dollars a day on her treatment. She buys cannabis oil and inhales it through a vaporizer.
Josh Reed is the vice-president of production at Surterra, one of Florida’s largest medical marijuana companies. He says being a cash-only business comes with challenges.
“That’s a conversation to be had with patients,” said Reed. “You know if you don’t have the cash in your account, you obviously can’t buy the medicine.”
But patients are not the only ones struggling.
Most banks are federally regulated and insured. Therefore, they avoid doing business with marijuana companies.
Trulieve, one of the largest medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, knows it all too well.
The company was dropped by a national bank after finding out they were in the business of selling marijuana.
“We had a notification that we had to withdraw all of our funds and transfer in 30 days and that happened within six months of us starting out as a company,” said Trulieve’s CEO Kim Rivers.
Many national banks are scared of the federal repercussions. It’s a similar situation with insurance companies that do not cover medical marijuana treatment.
Patients are signing up in records numbers to get their medical marijuana cards. In Florida alone, there are more than 160,000 patients.
For Dr. Michelle Weiner, a pain management specialist, the number could be much higher if medical marijuana was covered by insurance.
“A lot of my patients say, you know what, my Percocet is covered by Medicare and that’s fine for me, I can’t afford pretty much anything else,” said Dr. Weiner.
But many people are willing to pay the price for what they call the all-natural alternative.
“I’d rather do this now matter what the cost than go back on prescription opioids,” Brown said. “It does make a difference in my life.”
Patients can also pay for their marijuana medication using a popular app called “CanPay.” It allows a customer to transfer funds from a checking account to the store.