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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: Tallahassee is late, and lame, on medical marijuana

Published Jan. 28, 2017

Voters gave them a solution.

Others states have given them a road map to follow.

And still there are people in Tallahassee who seem hell-bent on fouling up Florida's medical marijuana program with unnecessary and unwieldy regulations.

It doesn't have to be this way, and it shouldn't be this way. More than half the nation is moving forward with medical marijuana, and more than 70 percent of Florida voters agreed it was the smart and compassionate thing to do by passing Amendment 2 last fall.

Yet the state's Department of Health has weighed in with proposals that defy the language passed in the amendment. And some lawmakers are talking about conditions that will almost certainly make it harder and more expensive for patients to get their medication.

Meanwhile, parents such as Clearwater's Dani Hall are left worrying about a battle they thought had already been fought and won.

Both of Hall's sons, ages 11 and 13, are autistic, and she has been waiting for marijuana's legalization to combat the anxiety, depression, rage and other issues associated with their condition. She's known other parents who have gone out of state for medical marijuana products, but she instead chose to advocate for Amendment 2's passage and remain within the law.

"I simply can't take the risk of having my kids taken away from me if we ever got arrested,'' Hall said. "That's the crazy thing. We've done everything right, we got the amendment passed and now we're still fighting all these little battles all over the place. It's like two steps forward, and one step back.''

There are a number of potential problems with some of the regulations being talked about in Tallahassee, but three stand above the rest:

1. As they did with Charlotte's Web — a modified form of medical marijuana with a small list of eligible patients — some lawmakers want to limit the number of growers in the state.

Never mind that this is antithetical to the state's normal free-market obsession, it could also create a supply/demand problem that would make prices soar and conceivably send patients to the black market.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has proposed a bill that would add growers as the state's patient list increased, but Amendment 2 guru Ben Pollara says the state's patient-to-grower ratio would still be five or six times higher than most other states. And there's also the problem of giving the first round of growers a head start on signing agreements with municipalities for dispensaries.

"What we are creating is the definition of a cartel,'' said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

2. The Department of Health proposal would limit the number of ailments eligible for marijuana and put the list in the hands of the state Board of Medicine. The amendment specifically says individual doctors should have the authority to make those decisions.

3. Language in some of the proposals could also make doctors wary of signing up for the approved list of physicians who can recommend marijuana. Since it is still technically against federal laws, some doctors are concerned by language that suggests they will "order'' marijuana instead of "recommending.''

All of these problems are unnecessary and easily

solvable. Brandes is planning to introduce legislation in the coming week that would eliminate Bradley's proposal to limit the number of growers. Brandes also suggests there is no need for growers to control the product from inception to delivery, and proposes creating separate licenses for growers, processors, retailers and transportation companies.

"I hope that we can have reasonable discussions about this,'' Brandes said. "Using the (Charlotte's Web) regulatory system designed for 1,000 sick children when you're now looking at potentially 250,000 patients is crazy. That mindset is absolutely insane.''

What's exasperating is that lawmakers should know better. They bungled the rollout of Charlotte's Web, and children had to wait an unconscionable amount of time before it became available.

And though the Legislature had zero interest in legalizing marijuana on its own, lawmakers had to know this day was on the horizon based on polls and what was happening elsewhere in the country.

"They have this attitude of, 'We have to take a conservative approach because we don't know what's going to happen.' That's nonsense,'' Pollara said. "We know what's going to happen. We know how it's supposed to work. We have two dozen other states that have already shown us.''

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this column.

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