The Florida Senate passed the Florida House proposal to regulate medical marijuana in Florida on Thursday in the latest chapter of one of the most hotly-debated and most publicized topics during this year's legislative session.
Senators approved the House proposal by a vote of 31-7. The measure now goes back to the House.
The Senate bill sponsor, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, late-filed a 70-page amendment to the House bill Thursday morning, just hours before that chamber took up the measure.
Among the proposed changes in Bradley’s amendment: 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 allow 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.
Rodrigues’ bill passed 105-9.
The amended version of the House bill would allow patients to get a 70-day supply of medical marijuana, but would put caps on physicians, who would not be able to give more than three 70-day prescriptions to patients at a time.
Qualifying patients could find themselves knocked off the Compassionate Use registry if they no longer meet the requirements of a “debilitating” condition or find themselves “cured” of their ailments under the House’s proposal.
The bill still bans smoking, though it now allows edibles and vaping and permits prengant women to use the low-THC form of the drug if recommended by their doctor.
Lawmakers debated the proposal for hours, and although the bill passed, not every state senator approved of the measure.
"We are not doctors. This is not the way to approve medications,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who said he feared widespread abuse of the drug. “I hope we are not creating the next pill mill crisis.”
Even though pro-medical marijuana groups didn’t see Bradley’s bill as the perfect solution to regulate medical marijuana, they still ended up supporting it anyway.
“Sen. Bradley’s amendment to HB 1397 moves much closer to the House’s position than I wanted to see, but nevertheless has the full support of Florida for Care,” said Florida For Care executive director Ben Pollara. “Anyone who would say Bradley’s proposal is anything but a fair reasonable compromise between the two chambers are being unreasonable themselves.”
Bradley warned legislators that this was just the beginning of negotiations over medical cannabis in Florida.
"This doesn't end tomorrow,” he said. “We will be dealing with this issue every session as this product evolves."
Still, Bradley said lawmakers owed it to suffering Floridians to make sure they gave them options to find relief in a safe, efficient way.”
"We owe it to the people who can use this medicine to make sure there is an orderly way for them to get it,” Bradley said.
The legislative session is scheduled to end Monday.