With plenty of breathing room before a March 15 deadline set by Gov. Ron DeSantis, House and Senate leaders have neared completion of a measure that would do away with a state ban on smoking medical marijuana.
Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Ray Rodrigues confirmed Wednesday they’ve reached an accord on a proposal that would allow patients to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for smoking every 35 days, ban smoking of medical marijuana in public places and allow terminally ill children to smoke the treatment, but only if they have a second opinion from a pediatrician.
After taking office in January, DeSantis gave the Legislature until March 15 to eliminate the smoking ban. If lawmakers don’t act, DeSantis has threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court decision that found the prohibition ran afoul of a voter-approved constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.
Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed an amendment late Tuesday that’s a blueprint for the repeal of the smoking prohibition. He predicted the full Senate could amend its smoking-ban legislation (SB 182) and take a floor vote as early as Thursday.
Rodrigues, R-Estero, said Brandes’ amendment “is what we’ve agreed upon.” Both legislators said a few “glitches” remain to be worked out.
“But as far as the policy goes, yes, that reflects what the House and Senate have mutually arrived at,” Rodrigues told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday.
House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, had balked at doing away with the smoking ban, which was included in a 2017 law aimed at carrying out the 2016 constitutional amendment.
But after DeSantis delivered the ultimatum, the House made a series of concessions to reach a compromise with the Senate, which historically has taken a less-restrictive approach toward medical marijuana.
For example, the House version (HB 7066) would have restricted medical marijuana dispensaries to selling pre-rolled cannabis cigarettes, along with other cannabis-based products not used for smoking.
Under the revised plan, dispensaries could sell any form of smokable marijuana, and patients could buy devices to smoke cannabis at state-licensed medical marijuana treatment centers or other retail outlets, such as head shops.
The Senate, meanwhile, yielded to the House by agreeing to limits on how much smokable cannabis patients could purchase at one time, as well as a cap on the total amount patients could have.
“The House’s concern is that we believe the people voted for medical marijuana. We do not believe the people voted for recreational marijuana, and if there’s no limit, then the concern is there could be an excess amount of product that’s out there. We believe that would be diverted for recreational purposes,” said Rodrigues, who has long been a House leader on medical-marijuana issues.
Rodrigues said the House would “most likely” take up the Senate measure early next week if the bill clears the Senate.
Under current law, doctors are allowed to order three, 70-day supplies of medical marijuana for their patients, effectively requiring patients to see doctors every 210 days. There are no caps on daily doses and no limits on how much doctors can order for their patients.
The Senate plan for smoking would keep the doctor-visit timeline, but patients would be restricted to filling a single, 35-day order for smokable marijuana at a time. The maximum for a 35-day order would be 2.5 ounces of smokable marijuana, and patients would not be allowed to have any more than 4 ounces of marijuana at any time.
Marijuana for smoking would have to be packaged “in a sealed receptacle” with a warning label stating that “marijuana smoke contains carcinogens and may negatively affect health.” The packages must be “plain, opaque, and white without depictions of the product or images” other than state-approved logos for the marijuana businesses and “the marijuana universal symbol.”
Brandes said he and Rodrigues “worked really hard to reach a consensus agreement” on the measure.
Some critics have complained about requiring patients to get their marijuana orders filled every 35 days. But Brandes pointed out that Florida law allows medical-marijuana operators to deliver cannabis products to patients. That means that, if their doctors approve smokable marijuana, patients wouldn’t have to travel to a dispensary every month.
“Of course there’s going to be some on both sides that are not happy. But we spent days working on these issues,” Brandes told the News Service.
Brandes estimated that the 2.5-ounce limit per order will meet the needs of the vast majority of patients.
“But there are going to be outliers, and we’ve created exceptions for those outliers,” he said.
Brandes also said that allowing patients to purchase smoking devices from third-party retailers was a “major issue” worked out with the House.
“So I think, all in all, this is a bill that I’m perfectly happy to stand behind and have my name on. That was my goal,” he said.
Brandes said he hasn’t spoken with DeSantis about the revised bill. But the governor’s office has received “every major revision” to the medical marijuana proposals and that most of his “major issues” have been addressed, Brandes said.
“They’ve been fully informed, and we’ve tried to address their concerns as they’ve come through,” he said. “I would hope that they would let us know if there was another concern.”
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida