Two competing bills to regulate Florida’s newly-expanded medical marijuana industry are set to sail through their final committee stops. On Tuesday, a House and Senate committee passed their respective bills to regulate the medical marijuana industry, pushing the measures one step closer to a final vote in each chamber.
The battle over the future of medical marijuana has been one of the most contentious, complicated and highly publicized issues of the 2017 legislative session.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services heard the Senate bill, SB 406, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, on Tuesday, passing the measure by a vote of 8-1.
Dozens of people traveled for hundreds of miles to speak out on the bill and the drama only intensified after a man convulsed in a seizure during the last fifteen minutes of the hearing.
Meeting attendees scrambled to help the man, who reportedly was present on behalf of an epilepsy group.
“He can’t get the only medicine that works,” the unnamed man’s wife reportedly said as he was wheeled away by paramedics.
The scene was a dramatic ending to the hearing, which largely centered around providing much-needed relief to patients suffering debilitating diseases like epilepsy, HIV and AIDS.
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.
Earlier in the hearing, the committee passed an amendment from Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, to put a cap on the number of retail facilities dispensing marijuana.
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.
It appears Rodrigues and state reps could budge on that part of the bill, however. Rodrigues said Tuesday morning that vaping and edible marijuana would be up for negotiation with the Senate, leaving open the possibility of changing the bill at the last-minute to reach an agreement on medical marijuana.
“If we can get proper labeling on vaping and edibles done, that is one of the subjects of our negotiation with the Senate,” he said.
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 support Rodrigues’ bill,” Calvina Fay, executive director of DFAF told Sunshine State News Monday. “He has covered many of our concerns and there are things in Sen. Bradley’s bill that aren’t quite as tight. There are loopholes.”
Fay told SSN DFAF was concerned there would be widespread abuse of the drug if the industry was not tightly regulated.
“We don’t want it to turn into a free for all where anybody that wants marijuana can get marijuana,” she said. “We don’t want it so broadly implemented that anybody and everybody can get it. We want to see it implemented in a tightly restricted responsible manner where it’s treated like a medicine rather than a recreational drug.”
When it came to the differences between the two bills, Fay and DFAF find Bradley’s bill particularly concerning since they believe it’s more lenient than HB 1397.
“[Bradley] treats [marijuana] as less of a medicine than Rodrigues does,” Fay said.
The two bills each have one committee stop left before heading to the House and Senate floor.