FL Gov. DeSantis is for smokable pot for sick people; pushes Legislature to quickly fix the medical marijuana law

courtesy Wikipedia
courtesy Wikipedia

Saying “We need to have the people’s will represented,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday pushed the Florida Legislature to quickly fix the state’s medical marijuana law to allow smokable pot for sick people.

He also said he’s filing a motion with the First District Court of Appeal, requesting a stay of opinion on a key lawsuit that challenged the Legislature’s ban on smokable marijuana.

The governor’s directives stem from a Constitutional Amendment in the fall of 2016 to legalize medical use of marijuana, which voters overwhelmingly approved.

But since then, the Amendment has faced multiple legal cases, and the Florida Legislature passed a bill that excluded the smokable form of marijuana for sick people.

That led to Orlando-based attorney John Morgan, who financed the campaigns for medical marijuana in both 2014 and (successfully) in 2016, to file a lawsuit in 2017 demanding that the state allow patients to smoke medical marijuana. That’s the legal case for which DeSantis is requesting a stay.

Former Gov. Rick Scott and his administration has been adamant about denying patients’ ability to smoke medical marijuana.

Last summer, marijuana activists came to the state capital and called on Scott to drop the state’s challenges over certain lawsuits related to medical marijuana.

Scott didn’t take action.

Now, there’s a new governor in Florida, DeSantis, and he differs from his predecessor’s views.

More than 70 percent of Florida voters were in favor of the Amendment to allow medical use of marijuana in 2016. “That is about as big of a majority you can get in this day and age,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Winter Park.

For patient with debilitating conditions, such as Lou Gehrig disease and Multiple Sclerosis, people want access to medical marijuana whether it is smokable or not.

“Who am I to judge?” DeSantis said.

Currently, Florida is in the vast minority in excluding smokeable pot for sick people. Only New York and Pennsylvania have medical marijuana laws that prohibit smoking the substance.

Floridians who are sick can use marijuana in oral, topical and other forms.

The governor says he has the ability to outright dismiss lawsuits related to the medical marijuana Amendment, but he wants to work first with the Legislature to fix the law that banned smokable pot for sick people.

DeSantis says he wants legislation on the issue by mid-March —  in the first couple weeks of the spring legislative session.

“I don’t think this (current medical marijuana) law is up to snuff,” the governor said.

But if the Legislature doesn’t come through, DeSantis said he plans to dismiss the key lawsuit over the smokable marijuana issue.

“Here in Florida, we must have a pathway for those who have a medical need to smoke marijuana to do so!” the governor tweeted on his Twitter account.

Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, released a statement responding to DeSantis’ move to request a stay in ongoing litigation regarding medical marijuana.

“Implementing the voter-approved amendment that authorized medical marijuana more than two years ago has been an ongoing problem mired in complex and protracted legal challenges,” Galvano said.

“Governor DeSantis has indicated that he prefers a legislative solution rather than a judicial order to bring the issue of implementation of the amendment to a conclusion.

A legislative solution has always been my preferred course of action, and we will certainly honor the Governor’s request to bring a bill forward early in session that addresses both his concerns and those raised in litigation.

Many Senators share these concerns and have ideas they are interested in advancing, which include smokable forms of treatment. I look forward to continuing those important discussions in the coming weeks.”

Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva also made a statement:

“We are encouraged by the announcement the Governor made today and accept the challenge he has laid before us,” Oliva said.
“Since being sworn in the Governor has acted swiftly on many issues and the Florida House will work with equal speed, in conjunction with our Senate colleagues, to bring a bill to the floor early in session.
Late Thursday afternoon, Fort Lauderdale Democratic state Senator Gary Farmer filed legislation authorizing smokable marijuana.
“After two years of defying the will of the people of Florida, and violating our state’s Constitution, I would like to commend Gov. DeSantis for his willingness to lead on this issue, where past administrations have showed a lack of courage,” Farmer said a news release.
Along with Morgan, joining DeSantis at Thursday’s news conference was Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuñez and Panhandle-area Congressman Matt Gaetz, who served in the Florida Legislature and was involved in legislation on medical marijuana.

“I am here to confess that those laws need to change,” Gaetz said.

New Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat, is an outspoken medical marijuana advocate who wants to introduce industrial hemp to the Sunshine State as a key cash crop. She is an outspoken supporter for legalizing smokable marijuana.

However, she was not at DeSantis’s event today and was not informed of the governor’s plans.

After the news conference, Fried told the Tampa Bay Times that, “Every day that medical marijuana in the pure plant form is unavailable to patients, Floridians continue to suffer.”

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.
Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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