TALLAHASSEE -- Not too long ago in Winter Park — the hometown of attorney and medical marijuana champion John Morgan — Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the Legislature an ultimatum: either it changes Florida law to allow smoking medical marijuana or he will do so with litigation.
Less than two weeks later, two bills have already been filed. The most recent is by a Republican state senator who appears to have found a receptive ear in the governor.
St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes filed S182 Monday to redefine the term “medical use” to include smoking. The bill would also delete a provision that prohibits a medical marijuana treatment center from selling products like pipes, bongs or rolling papers. The first bill, filed by Fort Lauderdale Democrat Sen. Gary Farmer Jan. 17, also aims to expand access to medical marijuana.
“This bill clearly follows the will of the voters,” Brandes said. “We would expect the Legislature to pass it post haste.”
According to U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz, a close friend and adviser of DeSantis, Brandes is not only behind this bill. He’s been coaching the governor behind the scenes, too.
Gaetz said ever since Brandes met one-on-one with the governor the two have been “singing out of the same hymnal.”
The Republican congressman from Fort Walton Beach said Brandes was once “a lone voice in the wilderness,” but now has “the most powerful man in Florida mirroring his language and ideology.”
Brandes often uses the word “cartel” to describe marijuana vertical integration, which requires medical marijuana companies to grow, manufacture, sell and market their own product. DeSantis used the word “cartel” when he criticized the structure during his Winter Park announcement.
According to the 2017 law, a licensed medical marijuana treatment center may not contract for services related to the growing, processing and dispensing of marijuana.
If you ask Brandes about prescribing smokeable marijuana, he’ll say the state should leave it to doctors. At his press conference on the matter, DeSantis asked “Whether [patients] have to smoke it or not, who am I to judge that?
“I believe that the ideas, thoughts and methodology embedded in orphaned, unpassed Brandes bills of yesteryear will reemerge as guiding principles in this governor’s thinking on cannabis,” Gaetz said.
In 2016, about 71 percent of Floridians voted to legalize medical marijuana on a constitutional amendment largely bankrolled by Morgan. While the 2017 bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott legalized access to the drug in pill, oil, edible and vape form, it made smoking it illegal. In addition to the ban on smoking, the law also capped the number of medical-marijuana licenses and the number of dispensaries in the state.
Scott appealed court decisions that ruled these limitations unconstitutional. DeSantis said in his announcement that if lawmakers didn’t comply by mid-March, he would drop the state’s appeal of a court decision that says banning it violates a constitutional amendment.
The governor added that he also plans to drop appeals in other marijuana-related cases regarding limited licensing and vertical integration.
More than 167,000 patients across the state are qualified to receive medical marijuana to treat illnesses like multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and epilepsy. There are roughly 1,900 doctors who can prescribe medical marijuana and 83 locations that can dispense it.
Brandes said this year he also hopes to expand the list of conditions that would qualify a patient for treatment and create a way to replace opioids with medical marijuana.
Morgan, who fought the state on the smoking ban, said he believes smoking medical marijuana is the quickest delivery system for immediate relief.
His brother, who is a quadriplegic, smokes medical marijuana when his spasms start to act up.
“The vape or a pill take a while,” Morgan said. “When people are hurting and anxious, they want immediate relief.”
He pointed to the case of his client, Cathy Jordan, a Sarasota woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who had been on a crusade to legalize medical marijuana since she was diagnosed with her disease 32 years ago.
Smoking marijuana dries up her saliva and without it, “she could very well choke to death on her own spit,” Morgan said. “For the really sick and injured people, there’s a new day in Florida.”