Debates have begun to put voter-approved medical pot into state law and patients’ hands.
State senators and officials with the Florida Department of Health have rolled out their initial plans to enact Amendment 2, which was supported by 71 percent of voters in November, and House leaders are finalizing their own ideas.
But they have already earned criticism from advocacy groups who say the state’s plans are falling short of what voters intended.
Ben Pollara, who ran the medical marijuana campaign and is now lobbying the Legislature’s implementation of it, said DOH rules are “in direct contradiction” of Amendment 2 and that the Senate is off to “an encouraging start.”
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The Senate and health department have both proposed expanding medical marijuana inside the state’s existing, limited cannabis program, which had its own troubles getting off the ground two years ago and has been criticized for allowing a limited number of license holders to have control of the state’s entire market.
That program allows terminally ill people within a year of death to use full-strength marijuana certain other patients, including children with severe epilepsy, to use strains of cannabis low in THC, the chemical that causes a euphoric high.
The state health department proposed allowing only the seven currently licensed growers to produce and sell medical marijuana to the larger market. They also proposed restricting marijuana’s use to only a specific list of medical conditions including cancer and HIV, plus others approved by the state Board of Medicine, while Amendment 2 says doctors ought to have freedom to recommend the drug when they think it is appropriate.
A statewide tour of public hearings on the rules begins next week.
State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, too has proposed allowing the current growers to run the market. But his proposal requires that five more growers be licensed within six months of there being 250,000 patients in the state.
What neither has suggested is allowing businesses to specialize in growing, producing marijuana products or selling.
The Florida House is thinking along the same lines, said Health Quality Chairman Cary Pigman, an ER doctor. He said he believes the state needs more growers but that they should also be responsible for producing and dispensing cannabis products that look like other medicines.
Critics worry the current growers — some of which have not yet started distributing cannabis to patients — may not be prepared to handle a pool of patients that could expand from fewer than 2,000 patients in the limited program to hundreds of thousands of potential users under the expanded list of conditions.
Andrew Freedman, who ran Colorado’s marijuana program, said that could be the right way to set up the system initially, but that in the long run it could be less efficient and lead to powerful influence by growers on the policy making process in Tallahassee.
“I would expect to see better lobbying teams if you have only a few,” he said to a House committee room packed with lobbyists whose clients want to influence Florida’s marijuana laws. “You will feel greater pressure.”
The Florida House has not yet put forward its proposal, which Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, is working on, a clear sign that the chamber’s leaders are taking it seriously.
In two hearings, the House’s health quality panel grilled experts, including several who raised concerns about youth use of marijuana and expressed opposition to letting patients smoke the drug, indicating lawmakers may propose regulations on the kinds of products available to patients.
Lawmakers are likely to propose tough rules governing dispensaries. Pigman, R-Avon Park, said they don’t plan to undercut voters.
“We are not here to debate whether or not to have a medical cannabis program,” he said. “The voters have spoken convincingly that we will have one.”
Contact Michael Auslen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MichaelAuslen.
Public hearing Feb. 7
The Florida Department of Health is having public hearings about its proposed medical marijuana rules around the state. There’s a hearing Feb. 7 at 10 a.m. at the Broward County Health Department, 780 SW 24th St., Fort Lauderdale.