The state would have more than a dozen pot operators — with unlimited retail locations — under a proposal overwhelmingly approved by the Florida House on Tuesday.
The latest version of the House bill brings the House and Senate closer to finalizing a medical marijuana measure before Friday’s scheduled end of the legislative session.
Lawmakers are attempting to reach consensus on a plan to implement a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for patients with a broad swath of debilitating conditions. More than 71 percent of voters approved the amendment in November.
House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the bill’s sponsor, told the chamber that the changes approved Tuesday were the result of negotiations with the Senate.
One of the main contrasts between the House and Senate bills involved the number of “medical marijuana treatment centers,” now known as dispensing organizations. The Senate wanted to boost the number of operators; the House had initially balked at the prospect.
But the House plan passed by a 105-9 vote Tuesday would require health officials to add 10 new medical marijuana treatment centers by next summer to the seven businesses currently licensed to grow, process and dispense cannabis products. Under the Senate proposal (SB 406), health officials would have to grant five new licenses by October and more new licenses as the number of patients registered for the treatment increases, something also included in the House plan.
Rodrigues said his revised bill (HB 1397), modified to include a Senate component allowing Florida businesses that have been operating for five years to apply for a license, resolves nearly all of the differences with the Senate.
The House had taken a much stricter approach to the implementation of the amendment, and Rodrigues has repeatedly relied on an Obama Administration memo outlining how states can craft medical marijuana laws to avoid problems, since marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law.
Rodrigues said lawmakers were forced to walk a “dueling path” to respect the will of Florida voters and the federal law.
“This is a double-edged sword that we are teetering on,” said Rodrigues, R-Estero.
The measure would allow patients to use vaporizers or edibles, but would ban smoking of marijuana products, something critics complain violates the spirit of the constitutional amendment.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, said marijuana is safer than prescription drugs that have caused overdoses.
“Would we rather have them use dangerous prescription drugs … or would we prefer that they smoke a bowl and go to sleep and actually wake up the next morning?” Smith asked. “Who are we to tell legitimate patients that they can’t smoke their cannabis? That is not our business, members. It’s not our business to infringe upon their personal freedoms; it’s not our business to infringe on the sacred patient-doctor relationship.”
But Rodrigues defended what he called a “patient-centered” proposal.
“What I have tried to do is make sure that we do this in a way that honors the letter of the amendment and the spirit of the amendment, but also exists within the confines of federal law, which is a paradox. This is a schedule one substance, which is illegal,” he said.
How many dispensaries the marijuana treatment centers are allowed to open remains the main sticking point between the two chambers.
The Senate plan caps the number of retail locations each licensee can operate at three, a number that sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said is too small. The House plan maintains current law, which allows an unlimited number of dispensaries, which Rodrigues said “are much more important” to patients than the number of licensees.
Critics — including investors, growers and others who want to get into Florida’s potentially lucrative pot market — object that, even with the additional licenses in the House plan, a limit on the numbers of purveyors could lead to prices that might be too high for some patients.
The House bill “puts profits over patient access,” according to Ben Pollara, campaign chairman of the political committee that backed the constitutional amendment.
“It not only maintains, but strengthens the cartel system of licensed marijuana growers in Florida,” Pollara said in a statement. “Prices will be high, quality will be low, and choices will be few. Patients will be driven to the black market.”
The Senate is expected to take up its proposal on the floor Wednesday for the first time.
“A lot of the House bill reflects a lot of the things you’ve seen in the Senate bill,” Bradley told reporters late Tuesday.
Bradley would not say what — if any — concessions senators would make when they take up the measure. But, he added, “at the end of the week, we’re going to have a bill.”
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida
Pot's Slippery Slope... says
I just want to state for the record how misinformed the general public is over Med MJ use… I too am all for it, for the Cancer Patient, etc, w/ serious medical problems where the pot can help alleviate pain and nausea. But here is what happens. Any quack can now write a scrip, it is horribly abused “Oh I am stressed” here is your scrip. If you give an inch, recreational users will take a mile. A year ago, I visited relatives in Oregon, a state that has recently approved recreational use. I was surprised to see young people out and about on the sidewalks and parks freely smoking “vape Pipes” … This is where you can legally purchase the concentrated extracted oil and burn a liquid in a reservoir on a battery operated pipe you keep in your pocket and puff any time you want a hit. Like Hash but perfectly legal. Its like taking a tequila shot every puff. Its ridiculous, unregulated, nobody knows how much of the potent chemicals are in this liquid, its not like buying a bottle of wine where by law it must state the percentage. Far more complicated than that. I do not want to drive on roads with people this stoned, Or have a drug concentrated, way more strong then natural pot thats unlabeled un-regulated widely available and can be so easily smoked and concealed in a vape pipe available at any 7-11.
Wishful Thinking says
Here I go again. Booze kills – with or without guns… Cigarettes kill. Both can be addicting aside from destroying your liver, your lungs and your life.
We know that drunk with a gun is far more dangerous to themselves and others than is using pot and minding your own business . If anything pot mellows one out unlike booze which can cause irrational behavior. Smoking anythinng using paper is bad so why not make cigarettes legal in vapor form. at the same time? No wonder we are dubbed FloriDUH…. Always a century behind..
Dee K Griggs says
Marijuana was voted on in Nov 2016 and won.
Why it is being held back is only a win for big pharmectical companies. Opoids are still available by perscription, valuum, Zanix or whatever, Fentonal patches for some by their doctors. Why is something that will not be near as hard on the physical body or mind being held back ? I could not smoke it, it makes me cough , yes I have been exposed to it. However having the dispensaries opens up a wonderful way to treat pain, seizures, nausea through the
ediabkes.It is not all about people sitting around smoking a bowel, getting high. Many people are in chronic pain due to bad disc in the spine and their not a surgical canadate or fear surgery , arthritis suffers, fibromyalgia, migraines, M.S. ,lupus, epilepsy patients, so many that could be helped. Even a few illegal pot dealers might go out of business.
There is no possible reason to hold back on the dispensaries except for big pharmectical companies, then you know you have politicians with their hands in the “Cookie Jar”
Ben Dover says
THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW is for medical need ONLY, not to smoke it and get high to be cool..
Wishful Thinking says
But it’s okay to get drunk like a skunk , get into a car and kill innocent people or gun people down?
Never heard of pot causing uncontrollable rage , murder, nor ‘stoned driving’ road deaths. The spirit of the law in Floriduh is controlled by the big drug companies. Amen