Medical marijuana advocates are furious over a new House proposal they say will severely limit both the availability and marketability of a life-saving drug in Florida.
Earlier this week, the House filed its 61-page proposal to give Floridians expanded access to medical marijuana, but there are some caveats.
Under HB 1397, sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, Florida’s current seven dispensaries would be given first dibs on selling medical pot. After 150,000 patients enroll in the medical marijuana registry, the department would then, and only then, open up licensing to the second round of dispensaries.
After 200,000 patients register, the state would license five additional medical marijuana treatment centers.
The number of growers wouldn’t be the only thing the bill would limit.
Not only would smokeable cannabis be banned, but patients would also be barred from buying more than a 90-day supply of marijuana, edibles would be off-limits and “vaping” would only be allowed for terminal patients.
So if you can’t smoke medical marijuana, how do you ingest it?
The delivery methods, activists say, would be far and few between for suffering patients, requiring them to use different routes of ingestion, like marijuana oil or capsules, in order to find relief.
Cannabis oil can cost patients a pretty penny -- up to $250 per gram. In Colorado, the same amount costs $30.
Under the new law, patients’ medical marijuana licenses aren’t permanent, either -- they can easily be yanked if they are charged with a drug offense or if they are somehow “cured” of their ailment.
Statewide medical marijuana activists criticized the legislation as a step backwards for Florida’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry.
United For Care campaign director Ben Pollara told Sunshine State News the new regulations didn’t paint the same picture voters envisioned when 72 percent of them passed Amendment 2 last November.
“It seems pretty absurd that the House is putting forward a proposal that's more restrictive in many ways than the existing statute, given their charge was to implement a constitutional amendment that is universally agree to be broader,” Pollara said.
Pollara and other pro-pot advocates argue the new restrictions totally close out the idea of a free market and eliminates competition in the medical marijuana dispensary industry.
“This bill enshrines the seven cartels and totally closes out any free enterprise people,” said Tom Murphy, founder of St. Petersburg-based Gulf Coast Canna Meds. “There’s nothing more price gouging than an oligopoly.”
Murphy is just one of the people trying to cut a piece of the pie with his dispensary, but the possibility seems to have dimmed with the introduction of HB 1397. Not only do Murphy’s ambitions for a medical marijuana business seem to fade with the bill, but patients, he says, will also suffer.
“Nothing good can come from it,” he explained. “How many patients can afford to get a gram a week? If they live a long distance from a dispensary, they’ll slap on another $50 for a delivery fee. What happened to the idea of taking care of the least capable in our society?”
Pollara agreed, questioning why lawmakers would want to regulate the industry so heavily that the true mission of Amendment 2 becomes fuzzy.
“I have to wonder how rank-and-file conservatives in the house -- especially the young-gun freshmen -- feel about an implementing proposal that deviates so far from basic free market orthodoxy,” he told SSN.
From a legal standpoint, lawyers say the new legislation would actually be easier to implement than any other proposals floating around because its rules are so tight.
“You’re dealing with a finite set of licensees, at the end of the day enforcement is all about the ability to put your hands on the licensees over whom you have jurisdiction,” said GrayRobinson partner Richard Blau, who heads up the firm’s medical marijuana practice.
Blau told SSN there was no way to move but forward on the issue.
“The genie is out of the bottle,” he told SSN. “There’s no putting him back in.”
Other state lawmakers have gone the opposite route and proposed broader regulations for the medical marijuana industry. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, recently filed legislation to repeal the state’s medical marijuana regulations and possibly open up the medical marijuana industry beyond the seven dispensing organizations currently allowed under state law.
Critics of the bill said they were trying not to view it as a be-all-end-all for medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.
“I think that it is a starting point and I think there will be lots of negotiation,” said Murphy. “I’m betting everything that I have, and [all that] my friends have ... and all of the rest of us who want to do something good, we are betting our livelihood that this will [be worked out.]”