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Romano: Doesn't medical marijuana deserve a free market too?

Trulieve manager Brian Powers, left, helps customer Ricky Parks  at the medical cannabis dispensary on Dale Mabry in January. Parks was diagnosed with lung cancer more than three years ago and said this is the only thing that helps him. Trulieve has three dispensaries open in Florida and plans to open 4 more in the state by the end of the year.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Trulieve manager Brian Powers, left, helps customer Ricky Parks at the medical cannabis dispensary on Dale Mabry in January. Parks was diagnosed with lung cancer more than three years ago and said this is the only thing that helps him. Trulieve has three dispensaries open in Florida and plans to open 4 more in the state by the end of the year.

Around here, free market is the answer.

And it doesn't even require an actual question.

Education gap? Let the business community fix it. Health insurance? Keep the government out of it. Minimum wage? Leave it up to the job creators.

Yes, free market competition will always be the solution in Tallahassee.

Except when it comes to medical marijuana.

Apparently, that's an industry in serious need of a government-sponsored cartel.

When first venturing into the marijuana business a couple of years ago, the state handpicked a small group of well-connected nurseries in a highly suspect procurement process. Now that a constitutional amendment has marijuana on the precipice of becoming a billion-dollar industry, the state is considering a plan to reward that same group of nurseries with a huge head start in the marketplace.

And that contradicts everything our state leaders normally preach.

Think I'm exaggerating?

State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, recently introduced legislation to repeal the state's "certificate of need'' programs for hospitals. The program allows the state to regulate where hospitals open, ostensibly to make sure private facilities do not cater to an affluent population and ignore the poor.

Bradley calls it a "cumbersome process'' used to "block expansion'' and "restrict competition.'' He says eliminating the program will create jobs and drive down prices.

And yet Bradley is also the sponsor of a bill that restricts the number of nurseries allowed to produce medical marijuana, which critics say will create price gouging and limit available product. In effect, it would create the same problems Bradley says hamper the hospital industry.

When I asked him about the philosophical differences between the bills, he said I was comparing apples and oranges. Marijuana is still a federally banned drug, and so it must be carefully regulated.

And hospitals don't need to be regulated? Yes, Bradley said, they will still go through a vetting process. Okay, but so would marijuana growers.

Bradley points out that hospitals in big population centers have cornered the market by using their political clout to keep rural areas from getting medical facilities. And how, I asked, is that any different from the big nurseries pouring millions of dollars into political campaigns — including Bradley's — to lobby politicians to maintain their monopolies?

"I have no doubt that those seven nurseries would like to shut the door behind them, and do everything they can to hold on to as much of the production as possible,'' Bradley said. "But their goals don't have any impact on me. I'm trying to balance appropriate safety measures with availability.''

Okay, so safety is a concern. We wouldn't want the product falling into the wrong hands.

Yet at this very moment, the state is considering eliminating regulations that keep liquor from being sold outside of package stores. And Bradley voted for that bill in a recent committee stop.

So isn't that inviting more DUI and underage drinking possibilities? Isn't that putting free market ideals ahead of public safety?

Bradley points out that his bill will allow for more nurseries to open once the state's patient list hits 250,000. But a bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, takes a more free market approach. It allows nurseries to open up as customer needs dictate.

"If Sen. Brandes thinks my bill doesn't provide competition because of the number of licenses,'' Bradley said, "I'm willing to have that conversation.''

Personally, I'm waiting for House Speaker Richard Corcoran to get involved.

This is a man who does not believe in compromising his principles. He's so committed to free market ideals in education that he called teachers "evil'' for pushing back against the privatization of public schools. He once said he would go to war to fight Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.

Not long ago, Corcoran laid out his political principles in a forceful speech:

"No economic system has done more to benefit mankind than the free enterprise system … but when judges or legislatures or local governments continually rewrite the rules or attempt to pick winners and losers, that is when markets fail. We need to reverse the damage that has been done, untangle the red tape and tear down all these barriers to entry.''

Glad to hear it, Mr. Speaker.

Looking forward to you joining the fight.

Romano: Doesn't medical marijuana deserve a free market too? 02/18/17 [Last modified: Sunday, February 19, 2017 1:21pm]
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