The Florida House yesterday overwhelmingly passed HB 1397, Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues’ bill on implementing medical marijuana.
HB 1397 is now much closer to the SB 406, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, who’s been leading the charge on all forms of medical marijuana for the last three years.
Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good is that the House has passed a bill that can be compromised with the Senate bill so the Legislature can fulfill its obligation to reasonably implement Amendment 2.
The 81-page bill has plenty of regulations to ensure Floridians who have a medical necessity for access to physician-recommended medical marijuana will indeed be able to get access.
The bad is that the House has given in to the proponents, and has agreed to allowing up to 10 more growers by next year about this time.
Smart Justice has consistently said more growers will be needed, but we’ve wanted the number to increase along with the number of patients, not set on a time-certain schedule.
With only about 2,000 patients signing up on the Medical Marijuana Registry at the University of Florida School of Pharmacy each month, it will take quite a few years before the patient numbers justify 10 new growers.
So, as long as the number of Florida-based physicians willing to go into a marijuana practice remains somewhat limited, patient growth will be curtailed accordingly.
Of course, the proponents will contend the $1,000 fee and now the four-hour medical course, which Smart Justice opposed lowering from the current eight-hour requirement, is the limiting factor that keeps more doctors from joining the ranks, when in fact, it’s that most doctors aren’t willing to have the stigma attached to their current practice simply to recommend medical marijuana.
And the stigma isn’t so much from the public -- at least for the time being -- but from their peers in the medical profession.
Part of it is due to the horrific experience and reputation that Florida incurred from the "pill mill" crisis, which resulted in a staggering number of deaths due to opioid pain killers. And part of it is because marijuana is still a Schedule I drug, according to the feds.
Having cited opioids, it’s interesting that freshman Rep. Carlos Smith would equate marijuana to being less dangerous than opioids in his comments during the floor debate. He said, “Would we rather have them use dangerous prescription drugs … or would we prefer that they smoke a bowl and go to sleep and actually wake up the next morning.?”
The answer is no, but it’s not that simple. To think that med marijuana smokers are going to smoke and then simply go to sleep is naïve at best. Many smokers may get into their cars and then get on the road, where Russian Roulette will have much more dangerous consequences.
Think I’m exaggerating? It was just announced last week that for the first time in history, fatal traffic accidents by drug users has eclipsed alcoholic drivers. Or, they may take a walk in Florida, the most dangerous state for pedestrians.
No question that opioids are much more dangerous, especially the ones obtained illegally on the street, the ones now often laced with fentanyl or even worse, carfentanil.
The ugly is that the House also agreed to allow an unlimited number of dispensaries for each of the current growers, and any new growers in the future.
This doesn’t make any sense. The Senate has limited retail shops to three for each grower, and Sen. Rob Bradley has acknowledged in previous testimony in committee that three is probably too low -- but it was acceptable as a number to start with.
If the choice is between three and infinity, then I hope the number is closer to the Senate’s position. That number must increase to provide the access that patients need, but a reasonable number is better than an unlimited number.
Ben Pollara, a leading proponent, is predicting a disaster -- because the House bill “puts profits over patient access,” without any evidence that patients are indeed not getting the access they deserve.
Pollara went on to say, again without any evidence, that “prices will be high, quality will be low, and choices will be few. Patients will be driven to the black market.”
Understandably, prices are going to be high in the beginning because the supply hasn’t fully ramped up. In fact, not all the seven designated growers are even growing marijuana at this point, so yes, the price will be as high as it is for any medicine when it's first introduced.
The assertion that the quality will be low is another figment of Ben’s imagination.
The growers have testified that the growing and processing of this plant is an exact science and the fact that there must be a medical director on board, and with all the other regulations, it’s a fantasy that the marijuana will be of low quality.
Law enforcement has documented that marijuana today is much more concentrated than ever before, certainly much more than in the days when I smoked pot.
The fact that both the THC, CBD and the turpenes will be closely monitored -- and labeled -- indicates the medicine part of marijuana will be very exact if for no other reason than recommending physicians and the state will demand consistent product ingredients so they can ascertain what benefits, if any, the drug will provide.
The Legislature will pass a bill and send it to the governor for his review. While the Legislature hasn’t done everything that Smart Justice would have liked, they’ve nevertheless done an excellent job. Finally putting science before policy will make Florida a leader among the states.
Barney Bishop III is the President & CEO of Florida Smart Justice Alliance, a right-of-center, law enforcement-centric non-profit dedicated to rational criminal justice reform. He can be reached at Barney@SmartJusticeAlliance.org.