State Sen. Gayle Harrell sits down with TCPalm Opinion and Audience Engagement Editor Eve Samples to talk about a bill coming to the Florida Legislature that could change the state’s medical marijuana law. Hannah Schwab, email@example.com
Don’t toke that medicinal marijuana joint just yet.
The battle is over, the smoke has cleared on giving patients permission to light up and inhale their medicinal herb, but that doesn’t mean you can rush to your neighborhood dispensary and grab some ganja any time soon.
Assuming Gov. Ron DeSantisdoes as he’s indicated he would and signs SB 182 into law, lifting a state ban on smoking medical marijuana, it could take weeks or even months before rules are promulgated to make smokable medical marijuana available at state-approved dispensaries.
The Department of Health has a reputation for moving at a glacial pace when it comes to issuing rules. Some industry officials, however, said the green-light to sell smokable marijuana will happen sooner than later.
“We anticipate an expedited process from the Governor and the Department of Health as it relates to the approval of smokable, whole-flower cannabis,” said Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, the state’s largest licensed medical marijuana grower and distributor.
“The Governor has been clear in his desire to implement the will of the people by bringing smokable cannabis as an option for patients in Florida, and Trulieve stands ready to provide high-quality, safe flower to market as soon as the Department allows.”
Patients still will need to get a recommendation from their physician before they can buy smokable marijuana from their local dispensaries.
The Legislature passed the bill Wednesday and sent it to the governor for his signature. The next day DeSantis praised lawmakersfor their hard work to meet the deadline he set for them to resolve the issue.
“The Florida Legislature has taken a significant step this week to uphold the will of the voters and support the patients who will gain relief as a result of this legislation,” DeSantis said in an email, praising Senate and House leadership.
The repeal of the ban will be a boon to an already rapidly growing business in Florida. Fourteen companies run 108 dispensaries in the state. Those dispensaries sold 65 kilograms — 132 pounds — of medical marijuana in just 7 days between March 8 and Thursday.
As of Friday, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use reported 250,000 medical marijuana patients, and 195,000 with active ID cards. The state has more than 2,100 qualified doctors.
It’s been a long time coming.
More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 2 legalizing medical marijuana in November of 2016. But the Legislature passed a law in 2017 that defined medical use to exclude administration of marijuana in a smokable form or as a seed or flower except in a sealed, tamper-proof cartridge for vaping.
People United for Medical Marijuana and John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer and medical marijuana advocate, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the smoking ban, and Leon Circuit Judge Karen Gievers agreed with them, issuing an order striking the ban.
Lawyers for formerGov. Rick Scott and the DOH appealed to the First District Court of Appeal, but more than a week after being sworn into office, DeSantis said he had no desire to continue the legal challenge.
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He told the Legislature to come up with a solution during the first two weeks of session or he would drop the suit and take matters into his own hands.
A week later, the First District Court of Appeals granted a joint motion to stay the case through Friday.
The governor has until Wednesday to sign the bill into law. The law takes effect upon his signature.
Those close to the medical marijuana industry said DeSantis wants to give the DOH a chance to get its ducks in a row before signing the bill. Once it becomes law, it effectively will put an end to the litigation over the ban.
“Our lawyers are okay with it,” said Ben Pollara, chairman of the Amendment 2 campaign. “We’re not going to nitpick the bill and are ready to file a joint motion to dismiss the lawsuit.”
The new law would allow doctors to prescribe up to 2.5 ounces of smokable marijuana every 35 days. Patients are allowed to possess up to 4 ounces.
There are 28 grams to one ounce. For those without medical marijuana cards, possession of more than 20 grams is a felony.
Until the passage of this bill, possession of vape pens also was a felony, Pollara said. Patients could only buy delivery devices from a medical marijuana treatment center approved by the DOH.
Also under the bill, people can purchase smoking paraphernalia and rolling papers.
People still won’t be able to smoke medical marijuana in public, in an enclosed work area, or on public transportation.
Patients under the age of 18 can get permission to smoke medical marijuana only if they are terminal and get a second opinion from a second doctor who also is a licensed pediatrician.
The bill requires each treatment center to produce and sell at least one type of pre-rolled marijuana cigarette. It also provides specific packaging and warning label requirements for medical marijuana intended for smoking.
The new law imposes the most changes on physicians, said Richard M. Blau, a Tampa-based attorney for GrayRobinson and an expert in medical marijuana law.
“They’ve got new responsibilities, clearing patients to be eligible for smokable medical marijuana, filing paperwork and collecting data,” Blau said.
Other than that, the bill is not a substantial rewrite of existing law, nor does it specifically require the department to come up with new rules for implementation, he said.
“The way the mechanics of the statute works is that it integrates the changes into the existing statute that regulates medical marijuana instead of creating a brand new law,” Blau said. “We’re going to tweak it here and there.”
Tallahassee Dr. Mark Moore, the first physician to open a medical office dedicated to certifying patients for medical marijuana, questioned the Legislature’s priorities when there are so many other problems.
Patients face shortages, the cost of the product is very high due to a lack of competition, and doctors are burdened with lots of paperwork and over-regulation.
“Having smokable bud hasn’t really been a hindrance for people,” Moore said. “It’s being driven by the dispensaries. The question really is do recreational users want smokable bud. My medical patients are happy as a whole with vaping.”
About 40-50 percent of his patients vape. If smoking becomes the law, and his patients request it, he will authorize it for them because he believes they have the right to choose.
“No question that cannabis is good medicine,” Moore said. “I just don’t think that smoking is good for most patients.”
Contact Schweers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.
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