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Amendment Two Prompts Uncertainty

Brett Levin via Flickr

Florida’s Amendment Two passed by an historic margin.  But although the people have spoken, state and local leaders are far from certain about the path forward.

Florida’s legislative session doesn’t officially begin until March, but Senate committees have already begun.  Lawmakers only meet for 60 days, and with 160 members in the House and Senate, finding compromise takes time.  Next year they’ll take on a number of thorny issues, and the Senate’s health policy committee wasted no time addressing one of the most prickly—medical marijuana.

“At this point we are still in the educational phase with our members,” Senate Health Policy Chair Dana Young says.  “This is a new subject for all of us and we are taking it very seriously, and we will implement amendment two in an honorable way.”

The Tampa Republican is talking about the constitutional amendment paving the way for medical cannabis in Florida. 

But the issue isn’t exactly new. 

Amendment Two narrowly failed in 2014 before passing this year.  In each of the past three sessions, lawmakers have pushed cannabis legislation, and some those measures are responsible for Florida’s six licensed nurseries.  Amendment two has shaken all of that up—and existing growers are quick to defend their place in the market. 

Truelieve CEO Kim Rivers believes she and other dispensing organizations should retain their permits.  At the prospect of new market entrants, she encourages senators to demand the same high standards existing licensees had to meet.

“We have worked extremely hard in the state of Florida—per your guidance—to make sure that again patient safety and product quality are paramount,”

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has a bit of a libertarian streak.  He has long-advocated a legislative solution for medical marijuana, but his proposals have often been at odds with the rest of his caucus.  He agrees with Rivers: existing licenses should be honored.  But now that Amendment Two has passed, he says barriers to entry need to be lifted.

“We should not be setting up state supported cartels,” Brandes says. “And that’s essentially what we’ve done.  It’s time to break down the barriers, it’s time to let people make investments, but I won’t support any bill that restricts the market.”

A block away, the uncertainty has some on the Tallahassee City Commission spooked. 

“I don’t want to get into the specifics on what we want to see in an ordinance because I think we’re wasting our time until we know what the state tells us what they’re going to put in their laws,” Commissioner Scott Maddox says.

City officials began the process of placing a six-month moratorium on new dispensaries within city limits.  And Florida’s capital city isn’t alone.  Small, relatively conservative towns like Milton in the Panhandle and large, progressive leaning counties like Orange have approved freezes of their own.  Although he voted to advance the proposal, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is anxious about ceding authority to the state Legislature. 

“We ought to decide for ourselves what makes the most sense for Tallahassee,” Gillum says.  “Not for Miami or Orlando or Jacksonville—Panama City, but for our community.  And it will take some time for us to figure that out, which is why I think this is a prudent next step but I don’t want in any way to communicate a ceding of ground for our own decision making for what makes sense for our community to the Legislature.”

Even though Amendment Two passed by a greater margin than any other state medical cannabis initiative in U.S. history, the issue remains contentious.  Lawmakers, regulators and growers seem to agree: medical cannabis is here.  But there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen with many different ideas about what they’re making.

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.