A Florida House committee decided to move ahead with one of the strictest proposals to regulate medical marijuana in the Sunshine State on Tuesday, much to the chagrin of pro-pot advocates who have criticized the bill for going against the wants and desires of Florida voters.
By a 14-1 vote, the House Health Quality subcommittee approved a measure which would have widespread limitations on how Florida patients consume medical pot.
Not only would smokeable cannabis be banned, but patients would also be barred from buying more than a 90-day supply of marijuana, edibles would be off-limits and “vaping” would only be allowed for terminal patients.
The way pot is ingested wouldn’t be the only way HB 1397, sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, would regulate the drug. The proposal also pushes limitations on dispensaries distributing medical pot as well.
Florida’s current seven dispensaries would be given first dibs on selling medical pot -- after 150,000 patients enroll in the medical marijuana registry, the department would then, and only then, open up licensing to the second round of dispensaries.
After 200,000 patients register, the state would license five additional medical marijuana treatment centers, and allow three more for each 100,000 patients after that.
Medical pot users must also be Florida residents and register with the Florida Department of Health to get a medical marijuana card, which would be provided to patients after they had been seen by the same doctor for 90 days.
Under the new law, patients’ medical marijuana licenses aren’t permanent, either -- they can easily be yanked if they are charged with a drug offense or if they are somehow “cured” of their debilitating ailment, which include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, Crohn’s disease and a handful of other conditions approved under Amendment 2.
Last fall, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to expand the use of medical marijuana in Florida. Seventy-one percent of voters voted in favor of Amendment 2, which is required to be fully implemented this year.
Pro-pot groups and medical cannabis advocates have criticized Rodrigues’ bill for being “too restrictive” and have advocated shutting down the legislation outright in favor of other “free market” bills like the one sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
“Nothing good can come from it,” Gulf Coast Canna Meds founder Tom Murphy said on the bill. “This bill enshrines the seven cartels and totally closes out any free enterprise people.”
Ben Pollara of United For Care, the group largely responsible for helping pass Amendment 2, said he hoped the bill would need to be amended significantly to make it palatable for pro-cannabis groups.
"HB 1397 would place such onerous and arbitrary barriers to access on medical marijuana patients that it's practical effect would be to virtually negate the law passed by 71 percent of Floridians," he told Sunshine State News.
Pollara also criticized the bill for receiving support from anti-drug groups and Drug Free America Foundation (DFAF), a group founded by Amendment 2 foe and Republican Party megadonor Mel Sembler.
"[DFAF executive director] Calvina Fay showed up today to express her support for the bill and thank the sponsor for including so many of her suggestions," Pollara said. "It is more than a little mind boggling that one of the most prominent opponents of the Amendment's passage would have such an outsized role in its implementation."
Other proposals moving through the House would give DFAF $500,000 to "educate" Floridians on medical marijuana, something Pollara finds unsettling.
"The notion that folks like Fay, the Semblers and DFAF are helping to write this legislation and potentially receiving a $500,000 appropriation to 'educate' Floridians on medical marijuana makes me sick to my stomach," Pollara said. "It's really a slap in the face to sick and suffering patients in Florida."
Rodrigues doesn’t see it that way, and instead believes his bill is following the letter of federal law to protect Florida from federal prosecution regarding national marijuana laws.
“I believe this is a measured approach to faithfully implement Amendment 2,” he explained.
The bill needs approval from two other House committees before heading to the floor for a full vote.