Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Romano: Putting a price on compassion in medical marijuana debate

The Legislature got all warm and compassionate Monday. Which means you might want to check your pockets this morning.

Not to be too cynical, but that's often how things work in Tallahassee. When lawmakers say they are helping the less fortunate, they are actually pandering to the well-connected.

In this case, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill Monday that expands the use of medical marijuana for terminally ill patients in the state.

You remember medical marijuana, right? Back in 2014, the Legislature passed a bill making a noneuphoric brand of marijuana oil commonly known as Charlotte's Web available to children suffering from severe seizures. Nearly two years later, it still hasn't been made available to a single child.

Why is that?

It has a lot to do with the onerous — and highly suspicious — conditions the Legislature put on the cultivation of marijuana in Florida with that 2014 law. Lawmakers decided there would be only five growers in the entire state. And only nurseries with 30 years of uninterrupted service were allowed to apply.

Essentially, the good folks in Tallahassee rigged the books so only a handful of major farming groups would have a shot at what promises to be a very lucrative business.

Naturally, that led to lawsuits. And that has led to interminable delays for those helpless children who were supposed to be the motivation behind the legislation.

Given the opportunity to fix that problem this session, the Senate wimped out.

Instead of changing the rules that limit growers, and instead of adding medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, ALS and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of eligible conditions, the Senate passed a watered-down bill under the guise that House lawmakers wouldn't go for anything else.

And then they congratulated themselves on their compassion.

"It's typical Florida Legislature bait-and-switch, telling you that they're helping people when they're really just benefiting particular companies," said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who has been pushing medical marijuana legislation since 2011. "This was an opportunity to right some wrongs, and instead we codified the same mistakes we made two years ago."

This is not a suggestion that every legislator who has supported the bill in both the Senate and the House did so with ulterior motives. Some were clearly unhappy with the details, but felt any expansion of medical marijuana is a good thing.

What's troubling is the stench of hypocrisy. This is a state that has bent over backward in recent years to promote deregulation in the name of free enterprise. A state that believes the government shouldn't be involved in the health insurance marketplace.

And yet, among states with medical marijuana legislation, Florida is passing some of the most restrictive standards in the nation.

Think about it this way:

How would legislators feel about limiting the number of gun manufacturers in Florida?

"This is about to be come a billion-dollar industry in Florida, and the way we've set the table is going to have ramifications decades down the road," Clemens said. "We're setting up five growers to have a head start on everyone else once medical marijuana expands, and it will expand. By limiting the licenses and the supply, they're allowing these five growers to control the price."

How lucrative is this issue?

The Times' Michael Auslen reported last week that Costa Farms, one of the five anointed growers, had steered $270,000 into the political committees of some of the Legislature's major players in December and January.

So is it compassion? Or is it cash?

I say it's Tallahassee.

Romano: Putting a price on compassion in medical marijuana debate 03/07/16 [Last modified: Monday, March 7, 2016 9:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Man found dead in Dunedin canal identified as missing 63-year-old

    Public Safety

    DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff's deputies on Tuesday identified the man found floating in a Dunedin canal as the man who was reported missing last week.

    Charles P. Morris, 63, was found dead in a canal in Dunedin behind Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park, at 605 Michigan Blvd. around 3:48 p.m. Monday. He was reported missing June 21 after he was last seen leaving his home the night before to walk his dog. [ Courtesy of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  2. A Time magazine with Trump on the cover hangs in his golf clubs. It's fake


    The framed copy of Time magazine was hung up in at least four of President Trump's golf clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. Filling the entire cover was a photo of Donald Trump.

    A framed copy of Time magazine, dated March 1, 2009, that hangs in at least four of President Donald Trump's golf clubs, from South Florida to Scotland, is fake. There was no March 1, 2009, issue of Time. The real March 2, 2009, issue of Time featured actor Kate Winslet on the cover. But the issue makes no mention of Trump. [Left, Time; right, Angel Valentin for the Washington Post]
  3. Editorial: The human cost of slashing Medicaid


    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no choice Tuesday but to postpone voting this week on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act that is just as devastating as the version passed by the House. The Congressional Budget Office's estimate that Senate bill would eliminate health care coverage for 22 million …

    Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
  4. Vince Young takes shot at Bucs' Ryan Fitzpatrick


    Former NFL quarterback Vince Young, out of the league since 2011 and complaining about not getting more opportunities to prolong his career, took a shot at new Bucs backup Ryan Fitzpatrick in a story posted at …

    Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who signed with the Bucs to be Jameis Winston's backup this fall, has played for six other NFL teams in his 12 seasons in the league.
  5. Editorial: Scott's poor choice for CFO


    Gov. Rick Scott didn't reach too deeply into Florida's talent pool in appointing his friend Jimmy Patronis to fill a vacancy as the state's new chief financial officer. This is an exceptionally weak choice for a Cabinet post that requires a sophisticated understanding of banking and other financial services, and it …