Legislation to regulate Florida’s growing medical marijuana industry is officially dead in Tallahassee, but some say one of the biggest groups pushing to pass the bill ironically is the one responsible for killing it off.
State lawmakers couldn’t reach an agreement over a legislative proposal to regulate medical cannabis in time for the end of the legislative session, which has already been extended until Monday.
It’s now up to the Department of Health to figure out how to regulate the state’s medical marijuana industry before July 3.
Until late Friday, it appeared to be smooth sailing for the future of medical cannabis. On Thursday, the Florida Senate passed an amended version of the House medical pot bill, which was chock full of changes, but lawmakers seemed hopeful they’d have a finished product in time for the end of session.
Among the proposed changes in the amended Senate bill: limiting growers to opening up five retail facilities, an alteration from the House version, which previously allowed medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs) to open unlimited facilities.
The delete-all amendment would have allowed the Department of Health to grant 10 new licenses before October 1st and would add five new licenses for every 75,000 patients.
Earlier this week, the Florida House of Representatives green-lighted its version of a proposal to regulate Florida’s medical marijuana industry after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, filed a lengthy strike-all amendment to the legislation early Tuesday morning.
Rodrigues overhauled HB 1397 in a last-minute amendment which spanned 82 pages and made several suggestions and changes to dispensing, labeling and the overall provisions of the medical marijuana industry.
Things didn't stay all sunshine and roses for long, though.
Legislators haggled over the bill into the late hours Friday evening, disagreeing on exactly how many retail facilities MMTCs should be able to open.
Rodrigues proposed upping the number to 100 dispensaries, but the Senate said that number was too high.
Sources close to the legislative process told Sunshine State News one of the real enemies of passing the legislation ended up being the group which had worked so hard to approve Amendment 2 in the first place: United For Care and its legislative arm, Florida For Care.
It was Florida For Care, they said, which pushed the issue of limiting the number of dispensaries for growers at the last minute in order to force the state to issue more licenses to get rid of medical marijuana “cartels," the original seven growers allowed to dispense the drug across the state.
At the 11th hour, insiders said, Florida For Care lobbyists Frank and Tracy Mayernick put pressure on Senate President Joe Negron over the cap numbers to ultimately force the state to issue more licenses and break up the seven original medical cannabis growers.
The House retreated to a position of having 100 caps, but Negron wouldn’t budge.
Without a final vote, lawmakers sent HB 1397 to the legislative boneyard.
Florida For Care executive director Ben Pollara told Sunshine State News the group had long pushed for caps on the number of storefronts and instead blamed the seven growers’ lobbyists for killing off the bill.
“The cartel's position was unlimited dispensaries for themselves and their investors,” Pollara told Sunshine State News. “Their lobbying team, led by Michael Corcoran, was very successful at holding that position. They got what they wanted and the bill died.”
Pollara said he told lobbyists to get any version of the bill off the ground before the clock ran out.
“My instructions to my lobbying team today were to get a bill - any bill - passed,” he said.
Ironically, the idea of putting a cap on the number of storefronts was a product of an amendment from former Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned from the legislature just two weeks ago.
House lawmakers could hardly believe their hard work had been for naught.
"If I were a voter I would be very disappointed," said Rep. Rodrigues.
Key figures involved in passing Amendment 2, like Orlando attorney John Morgan, were furious legislators couldn’t come to an agreement over the bill.
“My #ArmyOfAngels will be shocked to learn of the person responsible for this deadlock!” Morgan tweeted late Friday evening.
Other legislators blamed the Senate leadership for letting the bill go to waste -- all over the number of storefronts.
“We tried our darndest and it’s a shame the Senate chose to kill this over caps on storefronts,” bill co-author Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, told SSN Friday evening. “That’s a really tough position to defend -- that they would blow this up and cause patients to wait any longer than they have to ... is unconscionable and inexcusable and the failure lies solely with Senate Leadership.”
State lawmakers had been hoping to reach some kind of agreement over medical marijuana for months after Amendment 2 passed with a 71 percent approval in November.
Axed in the state Legislature, medical marijuana is now months further away for Florida’s sick patients.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.