Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Politics

Future of medical pot in Florida still cloudy after Senate discussion

TALLAHASSEE — What began as a decisive instruction from voters that patients who need medical marijuana should have access to it is shaping up to be a complex and contentious fight in the Florida Capitol.

Lawmakers have put forward competing proposals to implement Amendment 2, which passed with 71 percent of the vote in November and lets patients with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder use cannabis.

On Wednesday, the Senate's Health Policy panel discussed five approaches to implement the voters' will.

Their deliberations, led by Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, revealed the first look at what kind of cannabis bill might pass the Senate — as well as early fault lines.

One clear point of disagreement: how to handle would-be patients with conditions not listed in Amendment 2, which names 10 diagnoses and lets doctors recommend cannabis to patients with similar conditions.

Some advocates and lawmakers have suggested allowing patients with chronic pain access to the drug. But others worry that vague language could make it too easy for people to obtain a doctor's recommendation and a state-issued marijuana patient ID card.

This is one of the two toughest questions facing the Senate, said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who sponsored one of the medical marijuana bills (SB 406).

"I don't think we're compelled to include chronic pain that isn't related to an underlying debilitating condition," Bradley said.

Lawmakers are also divided on how people should be allowed to consume marijuana under the law.

While a couple of proposals allow for smoking, Bradley is clearly opposed, calling it "by its very nature not a healthy act." There are also differing views on edibles, food products that have been infused with cannabis oil.

The Florida House's lone medical marijuana bill (HB 1397) outlines a more restrictive approach, banning smoking and edibles, as well as "vaping," which is allowed under a current law passed in 2014 that lets some patients with severe epilepsy and cancer use cannabis low in euphoric high-inducing THC.

The Senate's eventual proposal will likely keep the structure of Florida's existing, limited medical cannabis program.

"By using this current structure, it would allow the Department of Health to continue with some of its current programs," Young said. "That may lead to a more efficient implementation of the amendment."

Using the existing program as a starting point will give seven nurseries already licensed to sell cannabis a leg up when the larger, more lucrative medical marijuana industry opens.

It also means that every business that wants to enter the marijuana industry will have to be a one-stop shop, acting as a grower, processer and dispensary.

Just one path (SB 614), filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, allowed for businesses to specialize as growers or sellers. But Young said it is unlikely the Senate will adopt that model because four other senators and the House leadership have endorsed keeping the existing structure.

Other senators on Wednesday raised concerns about this, including Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who pointed out that it would be difficult for each business to develop expertise in farming, lab work and sales.

But Bradley thinks the existing structure will make it easier to regulate the industry.

"I think it should be seed to store under one roof," he said. "I want to be able to have our government be in the position of shutting down companies that are not good actors and people who do not conduct business appropriately."

What the Senate does appear ready to change is the number of those companies that will be in the market. Bradley and Young, who originally proposed a slow expansion of the number of marijuana business licenses in the state, now say there should be faster growth to accommodate a patient base of potentially hundreds of thousands.

Businesses and activists repeatedly pressed that point.

"This is just a testament to the fact that we actually do listen to our constituents," Young said. "I do think that more licenses up front and different thresholds will be something that we almost certainly will move to. The question is: How many and at what thresholds?"

Proponents of a more open market took that as a positive sign.

"Even Sen. Bradley, whose proposal started at the lower number in terms of expansion, said up there today he's not only willing to but believes it should be open for others," said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care, the group that pushed Amendment 2 and is now advocating for greater patient access. "So I feel pretty good about where this thing's headed."

Times staff writer Justine Griffin contributed to this report. Contact Michael Auslen at [email protected] Follow @MichaelAuslen.

Comments

Pasco Political Notebook for Aug. 17

Republican Club hosts candidate forum at meetingThe West Pasco Republican Club will host an "Election Extravaganza" candidate forum at its meeting Aug. 21 at Heritage Springs Country Club, 11345 Robert Trent Jones Parkway, Trinity. A social time will...
Published: 08/13/18
Early voting in Pasco: Here’s what to remember when you head to the polls

Early voting in Pasco: Here’s what to remember when you head to the polls

Early voting Pasco County begins Saturday and runs through Aug. 25, with 11 locations across the county for voters.Polls are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 20-24, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug...
Published: 08/13/18
Largo election cancelled as incumbents stay with no opposition

Largo election cancelled as incumbents stay with no opposition

LARGO — There will be no suspense in the city when elections arrive Nov. 6. In fact, there will be no election at all, because all four city commissioners whose seats were up were re-elected by default when no one came forward by the end of the candi...
Published: 08/13/18
Florida candidate tried to prove she’s a college graduate. The school says her diploma is fake.

Florida candidate tried to prove she’s a college graduate. The school says her diploma is fake.

The political kerfuffle around Melissa Howard began when a news site reported that the Florida state House hopeful is not a college graduate, as she claims to be. To prove the story wrong, Howard, R, reportedly flew to her proclaimed alma mater, Ohio...
Published: 08/12/18
Romano: Two years later, politicians still ignoring Florida voters on medical marijuana

Romano: Two years later, politicians still ignoring Florida voters on medical marijuana

The war is over, except no one in Tallahassee has bothered to read the news.And so Florida continues its daft fight against medical marijuana. All of which means patients are being left behind, voters are getting ignored, and lawyers are buying fanci...
Published: 08/11/18
Hillsborough, tops in state for drug-addicted babies, will file suit against opioid makers

Hillsborough, tops in state for drug-addicted babies, will file suit against opioid makers

TAMPA — Hillsborough County plans to file a lawsuit next week against companies that manufacture opioid drugs, alleging that aggressive marketing of painkillers worsened the opioid crisis.The county joins a number of other local governments nationwid...
Published: 08/10/18
Ex-aide Omarosa says she refused hush money, pens White House memoir calling Trump racist

Ex-aide Omarosa says she refused hush money, pens White House memoir calling Trump racist

WASHINGTON — Omarosa Manigault Newman was offered a $15,000-a-month contract from President Donald Trump’s campaign to stay silent after being fired from her job as a White House aide by Chief of Staff John Kelly last December, according to a forthco...
Published: 08/10/18
Carlton: Sorry, Gov. Scott, but college students can early vote after all. Hey, USF, talking to you here...

Carlton: Sorry, Gov. Scott, but college students can early vote after all. Hey, USF, talking to you here...

Good news, at least for those of us who keep believing in that old-fashioned notion that voting should be open and accessible to everyone who’s qualified.Even if they’re, say, young voters. And even if certain politicians do not like the direction in...
Published: 08/10/18
Sheriff finds himself at center of political stand your ground storm

Sheriff finds himself at center of political stand your ground storm

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has never been one to shy away from tough decisions.He’s also not known to back off from explaining them publicly.So his 30-minute and 55-minute news conferences to talk about why he didn’t arrest Michael Drejka ...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Retired attorney and businesswoman challenge two-term Hernando commissioner

Retired attorney and businesswoman challenge two-term Hernando commissioner

BROOKSVILLE — As the District 2 Hernando County commissioner, Wayne Dukes hopes his public service over the past eight years has earned him another term on the board. But two other Republicans on the ballot for the Aug. 28 primary election would like...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18