Last year Florida became the 28th state to legalize medical marijuana when Amendment 2 passed with over 70% of the vote.
Unfortunately, instead of abiding by the overwhelming voter mandate, the state Legislature is looking to impose severe restrictions on the industry. The move will hurt patients, while enriching a handful of licensed growers.
Even before the state Legislature began writing rules, Florida’s Amendment 2 already had a far more limited scope than most medical marijuana legislation. Unlike the 2014 bill, which received a majority of votes but fell short of the 60% threshold, Amendment 2 listed ten specified conditions that qualified for medical cannabis. The legislation, however, left it to Tallahassee to figure out which products would be legal and how cultivation licenses would be handled. Time is proving this to be a grave mistake.
The Florida House has drafted rules that would keep it illegal for patients to smoke, vape, or consume marijuana edibles. Products such as CBD oil would be legal, but patients would need a prescription from a doctor if they’ve been using for over 90 days. Should this bill come to law, a patient diagnosed with cancer would not be able to receive a prescription from their oncologist for three months. The bill also restricts the number of licensed growers to the seven that are currently recognized by the state, with more being approved once patient numbers grow.
The Senate bill is a bit more liberal. Smoking would still be banned, but vaping and edibles would be allowed. It would also grant five additional grower licenses, though it would restrict the number of dispensaries they could have to three. That would mean a total of 66 dispensaries, averaging out to almost one for each of Florida’s 67 counties. Considering population hubs such as Miami, Tampa, and Orlando will have multiple dispensaries, it means many Florida patients will be hours away from a legal dispensary.
It’s quite telling that the state Legislature’s actions have been praised by Drug Free America, a group that was dedicated to defeating Amendment 2 last year, the restrictions being considered are “violative of both the spirit and the letter of the Florida Constitution.” Few areas in society reward losers quite like politics.
While these restrictions will make things unnecessarily difficult for patients, it is great for the licensed growers and the lobbyists they have hired to represent their interests.
Ever since Florida first opened the door to licensed marijuana cultivation with a 2014 bill legalizing a low-THC strain dubbed “Charlotte’s Web,” cronyism and connections have been prioritized over patients. The initial marijuana licenses were limited to big agricultural companies that had done business in Florida for over 30 years and grew over 400,000 plants.
Similar to Iowa, Florida’s agricultural industry is an extremely powerful political player. Protection for the sugar industry is as sacred to Sunshine State politicians as corn subsidies are for Hawkeyes. Meanwhile the state not only has its own Department of Citrus, but the office of Agricultural Commissioner is considered a strong stepping stone to the governor’s mansion.
Given this political reality, it is not surprising to see lobbyist pressure pre-empt patient care. It doesn’t make it any less sickening.
The state is already facing its own heroin crisis following the state’s crackdown on medical professional’s ability to prescribe painkillers. The hostility the Florida Legislature has shown to something as simple as restricted medical marijuana is a sign sensible drug policy won’t come out of Tallahassee for some time.
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