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Lawmakers And Activists Working On New And Old Legislation

Scott Beale via Flickr

It’s been a busy few weeks for marijuana in Florida.   Lawmakers are untangling existing law while bringing forward new legislation.  Meanwhile advocates are pushing constitutional amendments to expand access, and polling suggests public support is high.

At last count, People United for Medical Marijuana has gathered 265,862 signatures in support of its constitutional provision—a bit less than half what it needs for the ballot.  And officials like state economist Amy Baker are beginning to look at what its passage could mean for Florida.

“There is a big part of this that would be taxable,” Baker says, “absent direction otherwise.  The biggest area of confusion is whether it’s going to be treated as an agricultural product or not.”

But while the financial outlook is still hazy, it could affect a substantial number of patients.

“We sort of came into a range of about 450,000 people, 500,000 people,” Baker says.

Compare that to Florida’s existing medical marijuana legislation.  In June last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, but 16 months later, state officials have yet to determine which nurseries can dispense.  How long it will take those nurseries to actually provide a finished product remains unclear.   

“Most of this committee didn’t even vote on this bill because they weren’t in the Legislature when this bill went through,” Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) said in the House health quality subcommittee last week.  He was grilling Nicole Geary from the Department of Health.

“So there’s a lot of frustration on people that supported this legislation,” Steube went on. “And July 8 is when you get the applications, it’s been three months since then.  And you’re still telling us today that you have no idea when there’ll be some timeline as to when the department will select a dispensary?”

The roll out for the measure hasn’t been kind to the Department.  The newly created Office of Compassionate Use is already on its third director, and it’s had to fend off multiple administrative challenges. 

But in large part, it’s been hobbled in its efforts by limitations put in place by the state Legislature.  Only five licensees, thirty years of experience, less than .8 percent THC—they were all pitched as safeguards, but in practice they’ve held up the process. 

“So I think it’s very important that we’re at the doorstep we’re almost there, we’re weeks away, to not disturb that,” Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) says.

That’s why he isn’t touching the compassionate use law.  Instead, Bradley and his House partner—Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach)—are working on amending the Right To Try Act.  Right To Try allows terminally ill Floridians to use drugs that haven’t fully completed screening through the Federal Food and Drug Administration. 

Gaetz says the plan will expand access without getting bogged down in court.

“This legislation does not put a thumb on the scale in any respect regarding the eligibility of growers,” he says.  “We are focused on the eligibility of patients.  The vulnerable the fragile.”

What’s more, the measure doesn’t include limitations based on potency.  And it appears public opinion may be with the lawmakers. 

Quinnipiac University released polling last week indicating a slight majority of Floridians support recreational marijuana while a whopping 87 percent support medical use.  But similar numbers came out ahead of 2014’s election before falling short of the state’s 60 percent threshold for ballot initiatives. 

That means marijuana advocates could be in for a repeat.  If state lawmakers—who generally oppose marijuana initiatives—can point to new legislation it could sap support for the proposal as Election Day approaches.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.