Senate Panel Advances Cannabis Measure

Apr 4, 2017

Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service via wikimedia commons

The ball appears to finally be rolling for medical marijuana in the Florida legislature.  After tacking on a handful of amendments, legislation is advancing in the state Senate.

It seems broad support for the medical marijuana initiative Amendment Two is a two edged sword.  Nearly everyone agrees on medical cannabis in principle.  They’re just different principles.  That’s why Monday night Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) found himself wading through 14 different amendments.

Whether it was the state tracking system, plant testing or patients visiting from out of state most of the proposals were Bradley’s own.  But nearly all of them were attempts to address concerns voiced by fellow lawmakers.  The biggest one being who gets to grow and sell the drug.

“This is obviously the number of licenses issue—which perhaps y’all have heard about,” Bradley told the members.

He proposed and the panel adopted an amendment making significant changes to the benchmarks for adding new growers—now referred to as medical marijuana treatment centers or MMTCs.

“This amendment requires the DOH to register five additional MMTCs by October 3, 2017 including one applicant that is a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Organization,” Bradley explained.  “It requires the DOH to add four MMTCs within six months after the registration of each instance of 75000 more patients to the compassionate use registry.”

Under the original version of Bradley’s bill, growers would be added incrementally once the pool of patients reached 250,000.  With the amendment, there could be as many as 17 additional license holders by that time. 

Committee Chair Dana Young wants to expand the field even further.  The Tampa Republican suggests authorizing two nurseries challenging the health department’s decision not to give them permits in the first wave of licenses.

“In the interest of saving tax payer dollars on fighting these cases,” Young began, “and in the interest of fairness, we would go ahead and register these two MMTCs.”

But Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers) is uncomfortable with any new growers and she spoke out against a proposal granting licenses to two nurseries tied up in litigation with the Department of Health.

“I believe that if they are—if their challenges have merit, they will be successful,” Benacquisto says, “and they will be purveyors of this fine product in the future.  But I can’t support the amendment today.”

Young’s amendment eventually failed, but with Monday’s hearing it appears Senators are coalescing around Bradley’s amalgam of different proposals.  Florida For Care Director, and co-author of Amendment Two, Ben Pollara wanted a different, more free-market oriented approach offered by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) but he’s making peace with the Bradley measure.

“This is the approach that’s moving forward,” he says, “and I think that Senator Bradley, particularly with his amendments, has done a pretty good job of respecting the language of the constitution, fulfilling the will of 71 percent of Floridians and first and foremost serving the patients that this law is meant to benefit.”

That said, there’s still a lot of daylight between the House and Senate offerings.