Two proposals to regulate Florida’s marijuana industry continue to weave their way through the halls of the Florida Capitol but there’s still a long way to go for lawmakers to reach any sort of agreement on how to move forward with medical pot in the Sunshine State.
With three weeks remaining until legislators say “sine die,” pound the gavel and head home for the year, state lawmakers will need to concur over a handful of issues revolving around implementing medical marijuana, from the number of licenses, how patients will ingest the drug and how doctors will prescribe the medication.
The battle over the future of medical marijuana has been one of the most contentious and highly publicized of the 2017 legislative session.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services is set to hear the Senate bill, SB 406, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, next week.
Bradley’s bill is seen as a less restrictive proposal and would increase the cap on the number of marijuana dispensaries, expanding the number of businesses by five more when the state has 250,000 patients, 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients and then every 100,000 thereafter.
SB 406 would also create a coalition for medical marijuana research through Tampa’s H. Lee Moffitt Center and Research Institute, one of the top medical research centers in the state.
The coalition would conduct “rigorous scientific research,” and “guide policy” for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for medical marijuana.
Nonresidents would also be allowed to apply to receive medical marijuana in Florida as long as they are able to get medical marijuana in their home state and qualify in Florida.
Bradley’s bill would also require Department of Health to have computer software system to track marijuana from “seed to sale,” following pot as it’s planted and distributed to patients statewide.
Meanwhile, House lawmakers are headed in the opposite direction, considering a much more restrictive proposal to regulate medical pot. That measure, HB 1397, sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, would ban smokeable marijuana as well as prohibit edibles and vaping.
The House bill would also limit the number of growers in the state, resulting in far fewer growers.
Supporters of Rodrigues’ bill say it’s a critical step in the right direction for a “healthy” implementation of medical marijuana.
Groups like the Drug Free America Foundation, backed by anti-medical pot billionaire Mel Sembler, praised HB 1397 for limiting ways to ingest pot since they say the results of high-THC medication could be disastrous.
"We have no idea what the impact is going to be with these high potency products," said DFAF Deputy Director Amy Ronshausen last week.
Pro-medical marijuana advocates, meanwhile, have railed against Rodrigues’ proposal, saying it shuts out free market growers and goes against the will of Florida voters, who passed Amendment 2 to expand medical marijuana by 71 percent.
Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida For Care, said he hoped lawmakers sided with Bradley’s proposals and made good on their promise to Florida voters.
“My hope is that the Senate continues to do what they've been doing and makes SB 406 better in its final two committee stops, and that the House finally decides to live in reality, where 71 percent of Floridians approved a comprehensive, compassionate medical marijuana law,” Pollara told Sunshine State News. “Fingers crossed the Easter Bunny can deliver on the latter.
Other pro-medical marijuana groups say neither bill is a good choice to uphold the will of voters who said “yes” to Amendment 2.
“It’s a huge disappointment,” Karen Goldstein, Executive Director of NORML Florida told SSN. “It’s very repressive. It’ll make it much harder for patients to get the medication they need. The Bradley bill is also not keeping with the intent of the amendment…and the limited number of growers will limit the numbers of strains. The spirit and intent of the market was free and open, and neither of those bills offer that.”
If passed next week, SB 406 will then head to the Senate Appropriations committee for approval.