After voters overwhelmingly approved expanding medical marijuana in Florida, lawmakers should be smoothing the way for a statewide market to get established. Instead, proposed legislation would strangle growth and access by inserting bureaucrats into medical decisions, hindering competition in the industry and needlessly monitoring doctors and patients. It's a stubborn and suspicious approach that insults the will of voters, and it should be scrapped in favor of legislation that makes medical cannabis a truly accessible option.
The bill, HB 1397, by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, outlines rules for implementing Amendment 2, which expands the limited medical uses of pot allowed in Florida. But instead of letting doctors determine when patients are candidates for medical marijuana, the bill defines a limited number of qualifying conditions, including cancer or multiple sclerosis. And it does not make eligible patients suffering from chronic pain — such as from a car accident, surgery or condition like arthritis. Instead of letting doctors alone make treatment and dosage decisions, the bill puts a 90-day limit on the supply a patient can obtain and prohibits numerous forms of cannabis, including vaporizers and smokable and edible products except for terminally ill patients. It also forces patients to wait three months after registering with the state before they can obtain marijuana, a cruel and unnecessary restriction.
The House bill lays bare how disconnected legislators are from the 71 percent of voters who approved the amendment in November. It keeps in place the monopoly on suppliers and authorizes more only when the patient registry reaches 150,000. It preserves an existing requirement that suppliers be equipped to service the entire supply chain from seed to sale, which stymies competition and growth. A bill moving through the Senate, SB 406 sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, allows more new licenses to be granted faster but also keeps vertical integration in place. The free-market enthusiasts in Tallahassee seem to have abandoned that ideal when it comes to an industry they aren't keen to see grow.
The legislation contains numerous other barriers and oversight provisions, suggesting that legislators are more worried about recreational users getting their hands on marijuana than ensuring that suffering patients have reasonable access. But the Department of Health is not a law enforcement agency, and implementing Amendment 2 should not be an exercise in how little the law can allow. Doctors and patients should not be subject to nanny state-style rules that don't apply in other medical decisions.
Florida should not turn into California when it comes to the availability of marijuana. But voters delivered a mandate that they want reasonable access to this long-stigmatized drug for limited medical purposes. Legislation implementing Amendment 2 should allow chronic pain sufferers to use the drug, leave treatment decisions to doctors, abandon unnecessary oversight and get out of the way of a competitive, thriving market.