Sunday, April 22, 2018
Politics

Lawmakers to vote (finally) this week on medical marijuana deal

TALLAHASSEE — State lawmakers reached an agreement to make medical marijuana available in Florida, ending an impasse that derailed the issue last month.

Reached Tuesday night after weeks of closed-door negotiations, the deal affirms the will of 71 percent of voters who approved a constitutional amendment in November's election that allowed patients with a host of conditions access to the drug.

Lawmakers plan to vote on the issue by week's end. It could be one of the only bills to pass during a three-day special session that began Wednesday under a cloud of discord and fears that lawmakers may not accomplish their work on other issues.

"Our constitutional duty is to ensure the availability and safe use of medical marijuana in the manner prescribed by Florida voters," Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said in a statement. "This patient-first legislation will expand access to this medicine, while ensuring safety."

Some supporters of the amendment, while pleased that lawmakers reached consensus on legalization, criticized what wasn't included.

Take smoking. The bills (HB 5A, SB 8A) allow patients to buy and consume cannabis from licensed growers and consume it by "vaping," as edibles or as oils. But both prohibit smoking the drug.

John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer and possible gubernatorial candidate who bankrolled the Amendment 2 campaign, said that if the bill is signed into law, he plans to sue the state.

"Done is better than perfect and this is far from perfect," he wrote in a post on the website Medium. "I will be suing the state to allow smoke. It was part of my amendment."

If the legislation passes, lawmakers want the Department of Health to grant 10 new licenses, first to qualified nurseries that tried to get a license previously but were beaten out for the license by another company. They will join the existing seven growers that were licensed under a much more limited cannabis program the Legislature passed in 2014.

The legislation would also expand who could use the drug.

The amendment called for a wide array of qualifying medical conditions: cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or other, similar conditions. Lawmakers expanded the list to include terminally ill patients, regardless of their illness, as well as chronic pain that was caused by one of the conditions in the amendment.

Neither the Legislature's proposal nor the constitutional amendment allows patients to access medical marijuana based on chronic pain alone.

"Our obligation right now is to look at what's in the amendment and to make sure that we have a law that accurately reflects it and gives access to those patients whose illnesses are enumerated," said Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation.

Patients would be allowed to buy a 70-day supply of cannabis and would have to visit their doctor once every 30 weeks. Each grower would be limited to opening 25 dispensaries.

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott cleared the way for lawmakers to vote on the legislation, which has broad support among the rank-and-file members of the House and Senate.

"It is the role of the Florida Legislature to determine how to best implement this approved constitutional amendment," Scott said in a statement.

This is the second time lawmakers tried to reach a deal legalizing medical marijuana. Negotiations broke down last month over how many storefront dispensaries each licensed grower could open.

This time, the House agreed to a limit of 25 and agreed to having a separate cap for each region of the state. Senators pushed for the caps, arguing they will help prevent the first people allowed into the market from becoming too powerful.

But there's a catch: Caps are set to increase by five for every 100,000 patients registered to use marijuana, and license holders can sell unused dispensary slots to one another. The entire cap provision expires in April 2020.

"It accomplishes (the Senate's) goal of restraining the growth initially to see how the market will develop," said House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.

Still, the option to sell dispensary slots could be good news for some of the companies that hold a license already. One such company, Surterra, could make $138 million by 2021 based on a plan to open 55 dispensaries, according to a document by potential investors obtained last month by the Times/Herald.

Pro-medical marijuana activists generally praised the Legislature for reaching agreement, even while pointing out that it still has flaws.

"The bill is not perfect, but whatever flaws there are can be addressed in a future session," said Ben Pollara, one of the men behind the constitutional amendment and executive director of the advocacy group Florida for Care. "The critical need is for the House and Senate to send a bill to the governor so that patient access can expand in Florida."

Contact Michael Auslen at [email protected] Follow @MichaelAuslen.

Comments
Trump says he doesn’t think personal lawyer will ‘flip’

Trump says he doesn’t think personal lawyer will ‘flip’

WEST PALM BEACH — President Donald Trump said Saturday that he doesn’t expect Michael Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer and fixer, to "flip" as the government investigates Cohen’s business dealings. Trump, in a series of tweets fired from Florida o...
Published: 04/21/18

Vive la France: Trump hosts glitzy White House state dinner

WASHINGTON — Now it’s President Donald Trump’s turn to pull off the ultimate charm offensive. Wined and dined on multiple state visits during his tour of Asia last year, Trump is paying it forward and celebrating nearly 250 years of U.S.-French relat...
Published: 04/21/18
Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

The writer of the letter sounds hysterical. Perhaps a little desperate. And maybe that’s just who Marion Hammer is these days.Most of the world knows her as the take-no-prisoners maven of the National Rifle Association who directs Florida politicians...
Published: 04/21/18
Rick Scott’s term limits idea: Hugely popular and highly unrealistic

Rick Scott’s term limits idea: Hugely popular and highly unrealistic

WASHINGTON — Gov. Rick Scott’s first policy idea as a U.S. Senate candidate won’t happen and most of his fellow Republicans don’t support it.But it’s a surefire applause line at political rallies.Scott wants term limits for members of Congress: 12 ye...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

WASHINGTON — Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, is "very upset and disappointed" by comments made by his former boss James Comey that contradict his account of a disclosure to the news media, McCabe’s lawyer said Friday. "Andy has at all ...
Published: 04/20/18
Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

The one thing you can say for sure about electing a mayor in Tampa is you can’t really say anything for sure.Historical proof: A couple of elections ago, Harvard-educated hometown-boy-gone-to-Washington Frank Sanchez was going to be our next mayor, h...
Published: 04/20/18
Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Today across America, high school students are expected to walk out of class in their latest show of solidarity against gun violence and elected officials unwilling to do much about it. It marks a grim anniversary — 19 years since Columbine bra...
Published: 04/20/18
Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

TAMPA — For months, Tampa political aficionados have speculated: Will she or won’t she?Does Jane Castor, the city’s first woman police chief and presumed heavyweight mayoral candidate, really want the job? Asked and answered. Castor filed paperwork T...
Published: 04/19/18
Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

TAMPA — President Donald Trump has tweeted "trade wars are good, and easy to win."Don’t believe it, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce told Tampa business and political leaders on Wednesday."We share more with you than with anybody els...
Published: 04/19/18
Hernando clerk of the court announces resignation to run for judicial seat

Hernando clerk of the court announces resignation to run for judicial seat

BROOKSVILLE — Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Don Barbee this week submitted his resignation — effective Jan. 7 — to run for an open circuit judge seat.Barbee, who is in the middle of his second term, said he made the move "with a tremendo...
Published: 04/17/18