Legislative Compromise Won’t Allow Smoking Cannabis

April 19, 2017

Florida patients may be able to vape or munch on medical-marijuana products but they almost certainly won’t be allowed to light up joints or take bong hits, under a compromise being worked on by House and Senate leaders.

Lawmakers are trying to reach consensus on a proposal to carry out a constitutional amendment, overwhelmingly approved by more than 70 percent of voters last fall, that legalized medical marijuana for patients with a broad swath of conditions.

House and Senate committees on Tuesday approved two different approaches to the amendment, which could make Florida one of the largest marijuana markets in the country when fully implemented.

But neither side has any intention of allowing the marijuana products to be smoked, despite repeated demands from numerous patients, caregivers and others who insisted that smoking provides some people with the best type of treatment.

Lawyer Michael Minardi accused the House Appropriations Committee of thwarting the will of voters who supported the constitutional change and, he said, supported smoking marijuana products.

“These are veterans. These are the elderly. These are seniors, and people with ALS or PTSD, who benefit and use cannabis in a smoked form. What you are doing here, by creating this legislation when 71 percent of the people support it, is going against their will,” Minardi, who specializes in marijuana law, said.

But Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has shepherded marijuana-related legislation through his chamber for the past three years, told The News Service of Florida that smoking is off the table.

“There is agreement between the majority of the House and Senate that the smoking of cannabis is not an act that is consistent with a healthy life and not consistent with consuming medicine,” Bradley said.

Bradley moved the two chambers’ propoosals farther apart late Tuesday when he allowed an amendment, sponsored by Miami Republican Frank Artiles, to be tacked onto his bill (SB 406) that would cap at three the number of dispensaries each medical- marijuana licensee could operate. Bradley said he would agree to the amendment but believed the number was too small.

“If there are no limits on the number of dispensaries, it would be very challenging, if ever, for there to be other entities to enter the market,” Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said.

But Jim McKee, a lobbyist for San Felasco Nurseries — one of seven current medical-marijuana license holders in the state — argued that capping the number of dispensaries could have a negative impact on access to treatment for rural patients.

Having too few dispensaries would increase the number of patients, estimated to total about 500,000 in Florida, who would rely on home delivery for marijuana products, McKee said.

“Do we really want what could be up to 1,000 vehicles a day delivering cannabis throughout the state of Florida?” he said.

But Ben Pollara, campaign manager for the political committee that backed the amendment, said he supported a limit on the number of dispensaries each license holder could have because it would force lawmakers to grant more licenses and open up the market.

Allowing the license holders to open unlimited numbers of retail facilities will cause patients to “suffer the consequences of a state-mandated monopoly,” Pollara argued.

“The business of medical marijuana will operate like cable companies. You can pick from one of a handful of providers, and they are all expensive, poor in quality, and lacking in customer service, since they have a captive audience of consumers,” he said.

Bradley said later the number of dispensaries “probably does not produce nearly enough access and storefronts to make sure that everybody who needs medical marijuana gets it,” but the inclusion of the dispensary cap gives the Senate another bargaining chip in talks with the House.

The Senate meeting unexpectedly was put on hold for 15 minutes after a man in the audience suffered a seizure.

“This is what happens to epileptics whose medicine doesn’t work for them anymore and they can’t get access to the one medicine that does actually work,” Stephani Scruggs said, as medical providers and Capitol police crowded around her husband, Michael Bowen. Bowen was eventually removed from the committee room.

After the meeting, Bradley told reporters that Bowen’s seizure “is another reminder that what we’re dealing with is people’s lives.”

“What frustrates many of us is so many people get caught up in the money of it,” Bradley said. “Hopefully what happened here today will remind everybody that what we are talking about is patients and what we are talking about is access to a drug that is now guaranteed under the Constitution.”

The Senate committee overwhelmingly approved Bradley’s proposal, which has one more stop before heading to the Senate floor, with less than three weeks left before the legislative session ends.

Differences between the two chambers’ plans include how products can be consumed.

The House bill also bans vaporizing or edible marijuana products, an element House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the bill’s sponsor, said could change.

Rodrigues, R-Estero, said vaporizing, or “vaping,” and edibles are part of negotiations with Bradley and could get folded into the House measure if the products could be accurately labeled.

The House committee also approved an amendment steering more than $20 million toward carrying out the amendment, including $10 million for a “statewide cannabis and marijuana education and use prevention campaign;” $5 million for a statewide impaired-driving education program; and about $8 million to pay for 55 positions at the Florida Department of Health.

The Florida Legislature first authorized medical marijuana in 2014, with a law that legalized non-euphoric cannabis products for patients with severe epilepsy, chronic muscle spasms or cancer.

Anticipating the November passage of what was known as Amendment 2, lawmakers last spring expanded the law to legalize full-strength marijuana for terminally ill patients.

The Senate plan (SB 406) would do away with a component in the current law requiring doctors to have relationships with patients for at least 90 days before being able to order marijuana treatment, a requirement many patients — and some lawmakers — have harshly criticized.

The House proposal maintains the 90-day waiting period for patients who do not have existing relationships with doctors.

Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat who was instrumental in passing the 2014 law, choked back tears while relating the story of a family member who was told he had to wait three months to get low-THC marijuana for his 5-month-old son, who had a rare form of cancer.

“I’m the lawmaker that has to defend the 90-day waiting period. I can’t keep apologizing for that anymore and neither should any of us,” Edwards said. “To tell a loved one, my own cousin, and have to rationalize the irrational, we can’t do that. … That 90-day period was ridiculous from the word go.”

The House committee approved the proposal along a strict party-line vote.

“The current bill in front of me, I do not believe, complies with what the voters voted for. In 100 fashions, it doesn’t comply,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said before the vote.

But Rodrigues, whose bill relied heavily on recommendations from organizations that fought the constitutional amendment, reminded committee members that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

“This bill is indeed a work in progress. … 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 citizens,” Rodrigues.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida


15 Responses to “Legislative Compromise Won’t Allow Smoking Cannabis”

  1. lee on April 21st, 2017 5:01 pm

    Well if it can be used to help anyone fine. But when it comes to the work place rules will have to be applied. Like smoking tobacco, some companies will say if you use you will be fired. Legal or not. There will have to be studies as to what is allowed. like drinking you can not show up drunk , there fore you can not show up high. Think of what might happen to insurance rates if and employer has to now pick up these cost! Now I do believe that what you do in your off time is your buisness, but what you do on Friday night could hurt you on Monday morning. Well one thing for sure, you smoke, you will eat! So if we are as obese as the medical experts say, you think this is going to help? Just asking some questions. One more thing Law Enforcement will need standards to judge what is to high. Common Since first.

  2. Rip on April 20th, 2017 1:14 pm

    8 million for 55 overpaid people at the Health Department

  3. nod on April 20th, 2017 12:38 pm

    Matchbox, if you want to live in a make believe world, it’s ok with me. I perfer to stay in control of my mind. I do not need mind altering drugs to survive. Pot for real medicine “OK”. Pot for smoking ,NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. bless you all in your alternative worlds. Try giving up drugs and alcohol and enjoy yourself.

  4. 429SCJ on April 20th, 2017 10:09 am

    I agree 100%, those vapes are the way to go in public, events such as concerts and fairs ect, non offensive to those in close proximity and most portable.

    Convenience is where you find it.

  5. Matchbox on April 20th, 2017 4:54 am

    @Nod please direct me to an article that states that a person “HIGH” on marijuanna was driving the wrong way on an interstate. ..or..was seeing 3 lanes when only one was there..please for the love of God smoke a joint already so at least you can have 1st hand knowedge to back up your “opinion “

  6. grand locust on April 19th, 2017 11:16 pm

    It is simply about the money. The alcohol industry and restaurant industry fought the Colorado initiative and the California initiative because DUI deaths went down, crime went down, and alcohol sales went significantly down…..by some accounts almost 15%. This is simple politics where if you follow the money, you get the answers. In some states they are making sick people with cancer be fingerprinted to get medicine, so understand that big pharm, the alcohol industry, and the restaurant associations have proven numbers that their profits drop. So the best dollar spent by them is to make pot seem dangerous or unhealthy, and the statistic are now causing them to reach panic mode to fight any expansion with their bought and paid for shills in state legislatures across the country.

  7. Sedition on April 19th, 2017 8:40 pm

    Letting a politician dictate how a drug can be administered by a medical professional is a bit like a proctologist performing brain surgery…Now that I think of it, the proctologist would be right if the patient were a politician.

  8. Don Neese on April 19th, 2017 6:11 pm

    “There is agreement between the majority of the House and Senate that the smoking of cannabis is not an act that is consistent with a healthy life and not consistent with consuming medicine,” Bradley said.”

    I think Cheech and Chong would disagree

  9. David Huie Green on April 19th, 2017 3:14 pm

    “But Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has shepherded marijuana-related legislation through his chamber for the past three years, told The News Service of Florida that smoking is off the table.”

    Not that I personally care, but the word “shepherded” might more accurately be worded “killed” because it seems since he opposes it he is using his power to override.

    I’m personally against drug use unless needed, but unless it is directly hurting someone else, it should be nobody’s business but the user. Yes, I mean for recreational use too.

    Potheads are often pitiable but safer to be around than drunks and they don’t seem to damage their bodies as badly as alcohol consumption does.

    “I still don’t know which bathroom I’m supposed to use.”

    Third bush on your right. Watch your step.

    David for better but personal decisions
    and clean soles

  10. nod on April 19th, 2017 2:48 pm

    @ bartender. Like I said before, it does not hurt as much to be killed by somebody driving high on pot as it does for somebody driving high on alcohol.

  11. NativeTongue33 on April 19th, 2017 11:31 am

    Oh Cheese and Rice…can we just federally legalize this mess so we can all get back to more important topics.
    I still don’t know which bathroom I’m supposed to use.

  12. nod on April 19th, 2017 10:02 am

    Hip hip hooray!!!!!!! This I can go along with. people are upset because all most really wanted was not relief that it will give as a medication, but to smoke it to get high. As for cigarettes, two wrongs do not make a roght.

    REP JARED MOSKOWITZ sounds liker a dopper.

  13. bartender on April 19th, 2017 8:49 am

    look at it another way,how many pot smokers get out and kill people in wrecks like drinking does.smoking is legal and drinking is legal and both kill you but they still making money. pot is a weed so what the heck if it helps sick people im all for it.

  14. anne 1of2 on April 19th, 2017 8:13 am

    This is all about money. They do not need to handle us.

  15. Reality Check on April 19th, 2017 7:41 am

    Yet, smoking cigarettes remains legal? This tells you it’s not about your health or safety, but more about money. Where’s that whole “free market/capitalism” mentality?

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