Senators Preparing For Amendment Two Debate

Mar 20, 2017

Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service

This week lawmakers begin untangling their ideas for medical cannabis.  State senators have proposed five different measures.

The Senate Health policy committee will hold its second medical marijuana hearing this Wednesday.  This time, like last, there won’t be a vote. 

“At this point we are still in the educational phase with our members,” Sen. Dana Young (R-Tampa) said after the first workshop in December.  “This is a new subject for all of us and so we are taking it very seriously and we will implement amendment two in an honorable way.”

Young chairs the committee where lawmakers will hash out the issue.  She and others are still trying to find enough common ground to whip together 21 votes on the Senate floor.  

There are currently five competing proposals in the chamber.  Democratic leader Oscar Braynon would tie the number of dispensaries to the number of pharmacies.  Sebring Republican Denise Grimsley would allow local governments to determine licensing but pre-empts any city or county provisions banning dispensaries.  And Miami Republican Frank Artiles would establish a new class of licenses for testing facilities. 

But there are two frontrunners, and Wednesday Young’s committee will discuss the measure backed by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island).  Here’s regulated industries attorney Richard Blau.

“The approach, the format if you will, that Senator Bradley has authored is the one that has a companion bill in the House,” regulated industries attorney Richard Blau explains.  “And that’s the one that I believe that reflects the thinking the Legislature’s current leadership.”

Bradley’s proposal makes a number of substantial changes to the current system—most notably establishing a path for licensing new growers as the patient pool expands.  But the overall framework with individual companies controlling the drug from seed to sale remains in place.  

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) wants to abandon that system, and he’s disappointed House leaders appear to be embracing it.

“I mean I think the House has typically stood up for free markets and open competition, and I don’t think that bill falls in line with the spirit of the Florida House,” Brandes says. 

“The thing I’ve always loved about the Florida House is how bold they are in preserving free markets, and I don’t think we should put an asterisk on free markets for medical marijuana.”

Brandes wants to split licensing into four arenas—growing, processing, selling and delivering—and allow entrepreneurs to focus on the fields where they can excel.  Similar to the way Florida distributes liquor licenses, Brandes would tie the number of eligible retail facilities to a county’s population.  

But familiar fears are pushing House members to keep the industry on a shorter leash.

“The banner that was put up was small child suffering terribly from debilitating seizures,” Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Miami) says.

“What the companies would like to do is that they would like to once again manipulate the regulations so that what it really means is you have chronic pain and therefore you’re leading the way to recreational marijuana,” Oliva says.

Tom Murphy of Gulf Coast Canna Meds doesn’t have license to grow or sell medical cannabis, but he’d like one.  He doesn’t buy the move toward recreational use, but he does see manipulation among current businesses.

“In a castle, surrounded by moats and they’ve got the drawbridge pulled up,” he says of the established businesses.  “And they’re trying to hold off all the free enterprise people that are trying to get into the marketplace, and open up the marketplace so that there’s lots of choices and price competition for the consumer—for the patient.”

When it comes to medical marijuana in Florida, there’s one fact that can’t be overstated—Amendment Two received historic support at the polls.  No other statewide measure, medical or recreational, has garnered as much support.  But there’s another issue that can’t be ignored: the electorate’s approval is not mirrored in the Capitol.