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Medical marijuana expansion would be limited under new proposal

By   /   March 10, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Many of the 71 percent of Floridians who voted for Amendment 2’s expanded use of medical marijuana are likely to be unhappy with a bill from House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues that would limit options and maintain a restricted market for legal cannabis.

ROLLED OUT: A new bill introduced by Florida House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues would prohibit medical marijuana patients from smoking pot, and allow vaping only for terminal patients.

HB 1397 enumerates qualifying medical conditions and a regulatory structure for doctor certification, patient registration and marijuana research that resembles previous bills. It also would exempt marijuana and marijuana products from sales tax, reflecting its designation for medical use.  

But the Estero Republican’s measure would allow for minimal marketplace expansion, meaning that the already-licensed dispensaries maintain an advantage. Further, it would place significant restrictions on what types of medical marijuana products patients have access to. Edible and smokeable cannabis products would be banned, and vaping is limited to terminal patients. 

The restrictions perplex marijuana advocates such as Ben Pollara, executive director of the advocacy group United for Care, which spearheaded the pro-Amendment 2 campaign.

“The question we’ve been asking all day is, ‘Well, how can you ingest it?'” he told  Miami New Times.

Pollara also criticized the market restrictions.

“Forget about government not being in the business of picking winners and losers. HB 1397 literally picks losers in the issuance of the first tranche of new licenses proposed in the legislation,” Pollara said in a statement following the bill’s introduction earlier this week.

The Rodrigues bill would grant the first five additional medical marijuana treatment center licenses to applicants who were previously denied licenses.

This latest entry joins a series of measures previously introduced in the Senate.

The marketplace under the Rodrigues bill would look very different from what State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has proposed. While the Brandes bill would impose a population-based cap on dispensaries, it takes a more free-market approach to determining the medical marijuana program structure.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, expressed confidence that the Senate Health Policy Committee will be able to integrate the multiple options into compromise legislation.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told Watchdog that he hopes for a speedy resolution.

“Rather than seeking to find a legislative end-run around the will of the 71 percent of voters who decided in favor of Amendment 2, lawmakers ought to move swiftly to implement the law in a manner that legitimately addresses patients’ needs and accurately reflects the will of the electorate,” Armentano said.

Legislators have until July to put new regulations in place.

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Erin Clark is a Florida reporter for Watchdog.org. A graduate of the University of Richmond, Clark competed on the professional tennis circuit for several years before returning to writing. Her work has been republished in national and state publications, including the Apopka Voice, Bradenton Herald, Saint Peters Blog, Florida Politics, Sunshine State News, and Townhall. Erin is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Florida Press Association.