Medical Cannabis Measures Move Forward, Not Closer

Apr 19, 2017

Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service via wikimedia commons

The medical marijuana provisions implementing amendment two are trudging ahead in the House and Senate.  But the chambers’ proposals remain very different.

The end of this year’s legislative session is rushing up to greet state lawmakers, and one the most closely watched debates they’re tangling over is medical marijuana.  Christopher Cano is spending part of his day lobbying lawmakers over cannabis legislation.  He’s part of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws—or NORML. 

“I worked in the House in 2009 for a state representative, and I—optimism is not a luxury that you have when you’re here during session,” he says.  “What we can hope for is people see reason, and if they won’t, then they’ll have to see us in court.”

71 percent of the voters approved the provisions in amendment two, but finding that level of agreement for the measures working their way through committees has been difficult.  In the House, Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero) is backing a measure that takes a more restrictive approach than any of the proposals in the Senate.  But he seems to expect his bill to moderate somewhat in negotiations.

“What I would say is this—this bill is indeed a work in progress,” Rodrigues says.  “We’re in negotiations with the Senate.  Our goal is to produce an implementing bill that honors the letter and the spirit of the constitutional amendment and does it in a way that protects Florida’s citizens.”

Rodrigues’ proposal has come under fire after The Tampa Bay Times and The Miami Herald reported on the inclusion of numerous policy suggestions from Drug Free Florida—one of Amendment Two’s chief opponents.  Democrats on the House panel took shots at a number of provisions in Rodrigues’ bill, from the number of licenses to the number of dispensaries to the routes of administration.  But the most emotional critique centers on the bill’s requirement of a 90 day doctor patient relationship.  Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Sunrise) explains the demand made her cousin’s child wait on treatment.

“And that child suffered,” Edwards says with her voice breaking, “like so many of the patients that we’ve heard from in committees over the years.  And I had to tell my cousin, he called me he said you know he’s having seizures, I keep seeing your posts on Facebook, mom told me to call you—and I have to tell him, I’m sorry Ricky, you have to wait 90 days.”

But Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) defends the requirement in light of Florida’s pill mill crisis. 

“We’re a state that’s just getting over an opioid crisis because of doctor shopping, headed back into another one,” Brodeur says, “that is not what we want to head into with this.”

“We do not want to become the place that you can move here and get this product that day without having somebody that is already managing an underlying serious condition for which this product is needed,” he goes on.

In the Senate, Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) has struck the idea from his bill, explaining it imposes undue barriers for terminal patients or those that simply move to a new doctor.

“This I think is critical,” he says.  “This is a difference between the senate bill and the house bill right now, and I look forward to working with our partners in the house along with you all to make sure that we arrive at appropriate place for this bill.”

The stakes for lawmakers to get this right—after three years of trying—are high.  Amendment Two carries a provision giving any patient in the state a cause of action if health officials don’t have the system up and running by November. 

The urgency of the issue came into sharp focus during the Senate panel’s hearing—an epileptic man there to appeal for greater access had a seizure while he was waiting to speak.  The committee approved Bradley’s measure with one no vote.