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  1. Opinion

Sen. Jeff Brandes: Amendment 2 makes sense

Published Oct. 12, 2016

In 2014, I opposed the constitutional amendment providing for new medical marijuana regulation in Florida. Like many others, I supported medical marijuana for suffering Floridians, but opposed the amendment because I strongly believed that medical marijuana legislation should be vetted through the Florida Legislature.

I still believe that the best place for medical marijuana regulation is in state law rather than the Constitution, and I filed medical marijuana legislation in an attempt to do just that. However, the laws enacted by the Legislature have failed to provide Florida patients with adequate access to this form of treatment, and unfortunately the best way to reform the bureaucracy is to amend the state Constitution.

I now believe that entrenched special interest groups, representing what has effectively become a state-sanctioned drug cartel, stand in the way of providing access to medical marijuana for patients who may benefit from it as a reasonable course of treatment. It is because of this inability to pass sensible medical marijuana regulation, as well as my conversations with doctors who have expressed their frustration with the current law, that I have chosen to support Amendment 2.

Amendment 2 will allow doctors to recommend the use of medical marijuana to individuals suffering from debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy and Parkinson's disease. It allows only those medically supervised patients, or their caregivers, to legally purchase and possess marijuana based on their doctor's recommendations. Additionally, the amendment allows the Legislature to enact reasonable safeguards against abuse.

This is not a question of whether marijuana should be available to patients in this state. The Legislature has already passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law, multiple bills declaring that marijuana should be available to certain patients here in Florida. The debate now focuses on how medical marijuana should be regulated and which patients should be eligible to receive this treatment.

The current law, which was primarily designed for a small group of children with epilepsy, has proved to be so bureaucratic that it has led to delays and legal challenges, preventing the children and other patients from gaining access to a form of treatment that may improve their quality of life.

The current system is broken. Today, Florida patients are denied access to treatments that are available in 25 other states. Today, physicians have little protection from being sued for recommending marijuana to their patients. Today, a handful of special interest groups hold the only licenses to operate legal marijuana businesses in the state. Florida can do better.

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With the passage of Amendment 2, we will bring reasonable and responsible medical marijuana policy to Florida. Floridians suffering from debilitating conditions will have access to treatments that may improve their quality of life. Our physicians, in partnership with their patients, will have the ability to recommend the full scope of treatment options. Floridians deserve a rational marijuana policy that empowers innovation and advances compassionate care. That's Amendment 2.

Jeff Brandes is a Republican state senator representing the 22nd District, including portions of both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.