Continuing his fast start on multiple fronts, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday wisely demanded that smokable marijuana be allowed for medical use in Florida and moved to end a pointless battle among members of his own political party. Since voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, the state has prevented the use of smokable medical marijuana and interfered with doctor-patient decisions. Now DeSantis is calling for an end to that foolish fight and respecting the will of the voters.
Amendment 2, which was approved with 72 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 amendment also authorizes the Department of Health to create a database regulating doctors, patients, caregivers and dispensing organizations, all of whom need a license to be part of the statewide registry. It includes few other specifics — notably, there is no ban on smokable marijuana.
Yet the Republican-controlled Legislature passed legislation that was signed into law by former Gov. Rick Scott that banned smoking marijuana even for medical purposes. Never mind that doctors recommend the smokable form for some patients, such as those who have trouble swallowing and can’t use edibles or don’t get the same effect from oils or sprays. That law was struck down by a circuit court judge, who reasoned that because the amendment makes clear there is no right to smoke marijuana in public places it implies a right to smoke in private. The state appealed that decision, leaving patients who smoke marijuana at risk of criminal penalties.
That should end soon. DeSantis said Thursday if the Legislature doesn’t send him legislation this spring that eliminates a smoking ban, he will drop the lawsuit and end the ban that way. He also reasonably called for major reforms to the so-called vertical integration of Florida’s emerging marijuana market. State law tightly controls the number of growers, distributors and dispensaries that can operate. Easing those restrictions should usher in more competition, lower prices and ultimately greater access.
DeSantis said he will give lawmakers until mid-March — just a few weeks into the session — to craft new legislation. “This is all about doing the people’s will,” he said, striking a chord rarely heard in Tallahassee. Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, immediately indicated a willingness to cooperate, which is a very good sign for Florida voters and suffering patients who are still waiting for the accessible medical marijuana program they voted for two years ago. House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami, also should get on board and get this done quickly.
More than anything, DeSantis showed he recognizes the problem and respects the intent of the voters. He got right to the heart of the issue, saying “Who am I to judge?” whether patients should smoke marijuana. ‘‘I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved.”
That’s exactly what Floridians want as well. Are you listening, legislators?