After failing to reach an agreement during the regular legislative session, Florida lawmakers finally have a solution to regulate Florida’s growing medical marijuana industry.
On Friday, state legislators voted in favor of a proposal to expand Amendment 2, which allows for the use of medical marijuana for patients with “debilitating” medical conditions like HIV/AIDs, epilepsy, glaucoma and other forms of cancer.
The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott for approval.
Last month, negotiations over a bill to regulate medical marijuana collapsed after lawmakers reached an impasse over exactly how many retail facilities medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs) should be allowed to open.
At the time, the House pushed a more generous measure, proposing Florida allow an unlimited number of dispensaries. That number was later pared down to 100, then 50, but senators said the number was too high and the legislation died.
Lawmakers called it quits during the regular legislative session, but with a sense of “mission unaccomplished” returned to the Florida Capitol this week to hammer out an agreement to appease the will of Florida voters who said “yes” to the constitutional amendment last fall.
Under the bill, SB 8A, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, MMTCs would be limited to 25 retail facilities, a number both the House and Senate finally agreed upon after months of debate.
The Senate bill would also set aside millions of dollars to research medical marijuana at Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center, one of the leading research institutes in the state.
Despite the bill’s passage, senators expressed concerns over some aspects of the bill, which some lawmakers have criticized for banning smoking entirely.
State Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Boca Raton, said it was “clear” Florida voters by and large believed smoking medical cannabis would be allowed when they signed off on the constitutional amendment last November.
"I believe [all voters] thought the way they're going to be using this medicine...is by smoking,” he said.
Even some of the top Republican lawmakers had fears the state had pushed people away from getting medical pot legally by driving up prices.
"I fear...that what we have done here is driven the price of medical marijuana, where many people will seek to fill prescriptions through the black market,” said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.
The Senate even briefly considered a proposal to scrap and overhaul the state’s current medical marijuana laws and instead replace them with a vertical integration system with no retail facility caps for MMTCs.
Ultimately, the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 28-8 before sending it back to the House.
House members had no debate on the bill, instead green-lighting it without hesitation by a vote of 103-9. They sent it back to the Senate for a third vote, where it was finally approved by a vote of 29-6.
Medical marijuana supporters said they were bolstered by lawmakers’ swift action over the issue, which was added to the legislative schedule at the eleventh hour.
"This is still important, necessary legislation that provides patient access and begins to fulfill the will of [the] 71 percent [of voters,]" wrote Florida For Care executive director Ben Pollara Friday afternoon.
Others chimed in, saying Friday was the first step on the path to getting medical marijuana right in the Sunshine State.
“The Legislature heard and responded to the voters of Florida, said Taylor Biehl, who represents the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida.
Still, Biehl recognized the work was not over just yet.
“The Legislature recognized that as the industry and market evolve, they will need to address some issues next session,” he told Sunshine State News. “But like there’s a gambling bill year after year, there will now be a medical marijuana bill, too.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.