Marijuana Bills Going Up in Smoke ... This Year
Around the State
Advocates for medical marijuana legalization are seeing their legislative ambitions go up in smoke, as the fourth week of Florida's 2013 session drew to a close and, with it, most reasonable hopes of their bill receiving a hearing in the House.
Sources tell Sunshine State News that the order to table the legislation came directly from House Speaker Will Weatherford, who fears that controversy generated by the measure would hurt Republicans' electoral prospects.
HB 1139, the “Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act,” would have allowed patients with certain specified medical conditions to possess and ingest medicinal cannabis under a doctor's supervision. The measure was sponsored by freshmen Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.
Most years the failure of a Democrat-drafted drug legalization bill to move through the state's Republican-dominated Legislature would be uneventful: the pope is still Catholic, and water is still wet. But 2013 was different, or so activists hoped. Last November, Colorado and Washington became the first two states in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use, while Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize it for medicinal purposes. A new bipartisan spirit seemed to be prevailing in the Legislature, and polls consistently show that overwhelming majorities of Floridians favor the legalization of medical cannabis.
Jodi James, executive director of the Florida Cannabis Action Network (FLCAN), had even gotten wind from a legislator that a workshop on the matter would be held on Wednesday, March 27.
“We pulled together the A-team of witnesses to speak: a retired chief of police, testimony by doctors, military veteran to introduce a VA directive, all the big guns,” James explains to SSN.
But on Tuesday, James received word that the workshop would not be held, despite assurances she had received from Health Quality Subcommittee Chairman Ken Roberson, R-Punta Gorda, that he expected HB 1139 to receive a hearing before his panel, if not an up-or-down vote.
Edwards confirms to SSN her shock that the issue did not receive so much as a workshop hearing. She did not expect her bill to reach the floor, or to even receive a committee vote this session, but she had hoped to convince legislators to conduct a study on the fiscal impact of marijuana legalization.
“I think it would behoove all of us to recognize that [medical cannabis legalization] is going to happen, it's just a matter of time,” she tells SSN. “But the time to have the conversation is now.”
Edwards declines to confirm or deny rumors that Roberson had been pressured by Weatherford to table her bill.
“I have heard those rumors, but out of deference to the speaker, until he says to me, 'Representative Edwards, I don't want your bill heard,' I don't want to feed any rumors,” she says. “I'm going to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt and wait until I hear from him directly that that is the case.”
Roberson for his part denies he's received any such orders from House leadership.
“I did not get any direction from the speaker, whether to hear it or not to hear it,” he insists. “We've been dealing mostly with issues having to do with the Affordable Care Act and scope of practice issues. We just did not get to the bill.”
Weatherford spokesman Ryan Duffy also denied the rumors, telling SSN they are "just false."
The Medical Cannabis Act is named after Cathy Jordan, FLCAN's president and a sufferer from Lou Gehrig's disease, who smokes marijuana cigarettes in order to keep her mouth dry and offset some of the disease's symptoms.
As SSN analyst Jeff Henderson wrote last week, Republicans could have much to fear, politically, from the presence of a medical marijuana amendment on the 2014 ballot. The measure likely would attract a plethora of young voters, who largely lean Democratic.
Edwards dismisses concerns that her bill would be a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" for Republican legislators, who fear a "yes" vote on the measure might upset their more conservative constituents.
“My bill is a win-win for Republicans,” she insists. “If they're trying to peg themselves as being compassionate conservatives, then by all means this is compassionate – you're helping sick people – and this is conservative: we're going to look at an additional source of tax revenue for the state. What more could you want?”
Thursday marked the final day of subcommittee hearings, but there are any number of procedural maneuvers House leadership can avail itself of, from now until the end of April, to get bills heard before a committee or even brought before the full floor for a vote. Duffy tells SSN the speaker is not inclined to circumvent the committee process.
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Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at (954) 235-9116.