They did not listen to voters who overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 to legalize medical marijuana. They did not listen to a judge in 2018 who ruled their ban on smokable medical marijuana is unconstitutional. But state lawmakers did listen to Gov. Ron DeSantis, and this week the Florida Legislature finally is poised to pass legislation that would allow smokable medical marijuana. It’s about time.
The House should send to the governor this week legislation passed with bipartisan support by the Senate last week that would legalize smokable medical marijuana. Lawmakers really have no choice, because DeSantis gave the Legislature until mid-March to act or he would drop the appeal of the judge’s order and allow it anyway. That was a common-sense move by the fast-moving new governor, and even senators who have opposed medical marijuana voted for the legislation as a way to add some practical provisions.
Amendment 2, which was approved in 2016 with 71 percent of the vote, allows doctors in Florida to recommend medical use of marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis. The Senate bill, SB 182, allows doctors to certify patients who are qualified to receive up to six 35-day supplies of 2.5 ounces of marijuana in smokable form. Doctors also must document whether the patient first tried other forms of marijuana such as edibles, oils or sprays and how effective that form worked. That sounds reasonable.
The bill also establishes other realistic guard rails. For example, it prohibits smoking medical marijuana in public places and in drug-free workplaces. There also are packaging and labeling requirements for smokable marijuana. Less compelling are requirements that patients under 18 must have a terminal condition and approval from a second doctor, which sound more like political considerations than legally defensible restrictions.
Particularly important is the creation of a consortium for medical marijuana research that would be conducted by public and private universities. There has been little academic research on the benefits in part because the federal government still considers marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug (along with heroin and LSD) even though more than 30 states have legalized medical marijuana and recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states. The Senate bill allocates $1.5 million to get the needed research started on the effectiveness of medical marijuana.
Credit Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, for crafting legislation that is a far better alternative than allowing the court order to take effect and that he could sell to members of both political parties who have a variety of views on marijuana. The Senate passed the legislation last week by a 34-4 vote (one of the negative votes was cast by Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, which is disappointing).
The work on medical marijuana is not done after the House passes the bill allowing the smokable form and DeSantis signs it into law. Brandes should continue to work on legislation that reworks the regulation of the medical marijuana industry. State law now requires medical marijuana treatment facilities to grow, process, distribute and sell marijuana. That vertical integration model and a limited number of licenses have created valuable cartels, inhibited competition, reduced access for patients and driven up costs.
The House should pass the legislation allowing smokable medical marijuana. Then lawmakers should get back to work on creating a better business model for an industry that is not going away and benefits Floridians who need pain relief.