(Illustration by Dustin Glatz)

When I accepted a job in Colorado Springs, it had been nearly a decade since I’d lived in the States. A cultural sea change had occurred in marijuana law while I was overseas, and Colorado had been among those that led the pack.

My unenlightened home peninsula of Florida, however, had fought the march of progress tooth and nail, grudgingly allowing medical marijuana in 2014 (14 years after Colorado got there back in 2000). In my new home, things would be different. Visions of ice-cold blueberry THC sodas, aromatic Ghost Train Haze and Gorilla Glue #4 flower, and Colorado Sunrise gummies with their delicious blend of citrusy sweet and cherry tartness — all danced in my head like sugarplum fairies in a child’s dream on Christmas Eve. 

I was excited to live there.

So, not long after I had moved to the city, I decided to sort out my medical marijuana card. I had been making a monthly drive to Pueblo’s Maggie’s Farm to stock up, which (while kind of peaceful and a good opportunity to catch up on NPR) was burning pricey gas, and costing me a good deal more than medical. (Yes, I knew about Manitou — but this was when they were still scheduling pick-up appointments at that location, and the line of people outside was discouraging).

I knew the Springs’ reputation for being a bit different from the rest of the state, of course — mainly no recreational marijuana — but I figured, hell, this is still Colorado, right? 

I’ll just call my new doctor, with my new health insurance, and get the medical marijuana card. This was in 2021, and by that time, even my friends in Florida weren’t having any trouble getting medical cards. So I was sure our nation’s foremost pioneer in recreational marijuana freedom wouldn’t be MORE difficult … right?

“So what’s your medical condition?” asked my friendly-sounding new physician.

I’m out of marijuana, genius, I thought to myself.

“My condition? Uhm … anxiety,” I said, while doing roughly four other things at the same time. I might as well have added an, “or whatever, man.” 

“Well, marijuana doesn’t treat stress.”

“OK, well I don’t know what to say to that. It’s been treating MY stress pretty effectively for a few decades now.”

“What I mean is, anxiety is not an approved medical condition for me to prescribe you marijuana.”

“But … this is Colorado.”

“Yes, but without an approved condition, I, personally, will not—”

“My back hurts, too. And I have glaucoma.”

“You’ll need to speak with somebody else.”

And sure, I could have doctor-shopped a bit, paid out of pocket for a visit and sorted it myself, but then I got busy with life, and work, and battling the gang of raccoons rummaging in my garbage cans.

While there is some headway being made, and recreational has a chance at getting on the ballot in 2024, it currently remains illegal in Florida — but you could be forgiven for being confused. Firstly, the entire state smells like weed (and sunblock, and Marlboro lights), and there are “loophole” stores all over the place selling “hemp-derived” THC products, many of which will get you just as cooked as traditional marijuana products. After the 2018 Hemp Farm Bill passed, savvy growers quickly figured out a way to extract the plant’s Delta 9 THC and create intoxicating gummies and other consumables. 

So yes, now that I’m living back in Florida, getting a medical card is actually easier than it had been for me in Colorado Springs. Nobody here believes me — they mostly think of Colorado as a progressive wonderland (or a progressive hellscape, depending on their politics), where bales of dank roll across the landscape like tumbleweed, and dreadlocked snowboarders slalom down the slopes of the Big Rock Candy Mountain, spliffs tucked behind their ears. 

medical marijuana

And it can feel that way, to be sure. And compared to Florida — in many respects — it is. But of course, given the politics of the Springs and marijuana’s federal status as a Schedule I substance, the reality can be quite different depending on who you are, where you work, where you live in the state, how sick you are, how much THC you require, and in what kind of deliverable.

My own complaints were, of course, quite minor. I don’t smoke like I used to, so one good Pueblo run would last me maybe a couple of months. After living most of my life looking over my shoulder for Johnny every time a strawberry Philly went around, simply having the legal option felt like such a blessing.

It was a much different story for someone like Bridget Seritt, who I spoke to in March of 2022. Seritt suffered from a devastating combination of a genetic disorder, multiple autoimmune diseases, and serious spinal cord injuries. After the passage of House Bill 21-1317 “Regulating Marijuana Concentrates,” she was unable to purchase the amount of concentrated THC oil necessary to treat her symptoms in a single visit. Suddenly Seritt, who already struggled with mobility on a good day, was forced to make the trek to her dispensary twice a week rather than once a month. This led to her rationing her medicine, which led to pain. 

HB21-1317 did make it harder for teens to purchase shatter or dabs — a worthy goal — but was also a fairly blunt bit of legislation. Patients who could formerly purchase up to 40 grams of concentrated THC oil per visit, were now reduced to only eight. For patients like Seritt, or for those with cancer or seizure disorders, it had made their products more expensive, and their pain more constant. These were critically ill people, patients that weren’t smoking marijuana at all, but often simply dripping the concentrated oil into their feeding tubes. Overnight, their lives became both more expensive and more painful to manage. While its proponents focused on its regulation of marijuana advertising, it’s hard not to view HB-1317 and similar laws as a significant step backwards.

I bring this up simply to remind us all: Progress itself is not a guarantee. Our situation is never assured to become more free, more kind, more tolerant, or more just. That requires constant work, and ceaseless vigilance.

Last year I visited a religious school west of town in Teller County several times for a story, and I still remember how one of the employees’ eyes lit up when I mentioned I was from Florida.

“Oh, that’s great! I really like your governor. You have so much freedom in Florida now,” she said, smiling.

And there is a lot of freedom happening in Florida right now, if by “freedom” you mean the other thing. 

A lone parent is now “free” to ban books like Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye from the entirety of her child’s school district. Parents are free to send their children to public schools where teachers can be military veterans without a college degree. Corporations are free to pay a mere 5.5 percent tax rate, and Nestle is free to pump over 1 million gallons of drinking water per DAY from Ginnie Springs, and they are free to sell it right back to us Floridians in plastic, bottled form. Beginning in July, we’re all free to carry concealed handguns without any training or background checks. Women are also very free to get abortions, provided they do it before they are six weeks along. That last one was signed into law as I was typing this paragraph.

Political parties all disappoint their supporters in the end, as do politicians themselves, if they stick around long enough. In Florida and in much of the South, people love to say that “politicians are all the same.” That both political parties are all the same. If that’s so, and if they truly believe it, then why do the same people peddling that line always vote for the same party?

While American politician$ and political partie$ may all $uffer from the $ame di$ease, their policies are not the same, and these differences in governance can have profound effects on the quality and length of our lives. It may be that only 35 percent of Colorado Springs voted in the last election, but I’ve observed that approximately 100 percent of them drink water. If there was a different governor in my home state, there is a very good chance that the water coming out of my faucet right now would be cleaner. It doesn’t get more basic than that.

In ways both measurable and immeasurable, my life was better, cleaner, and safer in Colorado than it is in Florida. Guard what you’ve gained out there. Like abortion rights, or marijuana, or books, or even clean water to drink — it can be taken so quickly.