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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Panel approves medical marijuana plan, expands it to 20 growers



Patients who have been given a year to live could soon be allowed to use marijuana to ease their pain.

A Florida House panel on Tuesday okayed legislation that would expand an existing, small medical marijuana program and a law allowing terminal patients to try experimental drugs. Now, with two doctors’ approval, a patient can buy marijuana from a licensed grower in the state.

“Cannabis should be the first option for patients, rather than the last resort,” said Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, speaking on behalf of Cathy Jordan, a Parrish resident who has suffered from ALS for 29 years. “No one should have to go through what I did to get their medication.”

Jordan, the president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, has a letter from the state attorney’s office in Manatee County that allows her to grow marijuana that has been prescribed to her.

But before okaying the bill (HB 307) by a 9-4 vote, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee tacked on new language that would quadruple the number of licensed marijuana growers in the state from five to 20.

The Florida Department of Health is expected to announce five licensed growers for cannabis that is low in high-inducing THC in the coming weeks. Encouraged by a group of black farmers that met with the Florida Legislative Black Caucus early this month, Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, pushed the amendment, which eliminates strict requirements for potential growers.

Howard Gunn, Jr., president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, has said that the five-nursery limit and requirement that nurseries be in business for at least 30 years before being licensed by the Department of Health has “systematically excluded the black farmer.”

“I believe if we don’t remove these barriers to entry, we are creating a monopoly for five dispensing organizations,” Bracy said Tuesday. “I believe it creates a competitive disadvantage, and I believe it negates free-market principles.”

Lawmakers passed the amendment after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, gave a thumbs-up, apparently encouraging a group of committee members to vote yes.

Still, despite bipartisan support, some members already started to raise questions about the larger number of nurseries that would be allowed to grow marijuana if the bill passes.

“We’ve got a train wreck here,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who voted against the bill. “We’ve got confusion. Here’s an amendment that turned it upside down at the last minute.”

A similar proposal will be considered this afternoon in the Senate Health Policy committee.

[Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2015 11:18am]


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