Legislative leaders say they intend to meet the March 15 deadline that Gov. Ron DeSantis set for allowing sick people to smoke medical marijuana.
But it’s not clear whether that resolution will be acceptable to DeSantis or to advocates for smokable marijuana.
“I believe we will get something to the governor by March 15 and the question is: Will it be where he wants us to be?” Florida Senate President Bill Galvano told reporters and editors attending the annual AP pre-legislative session conference on Wednesday.
“We need to have the people’s will represented in good law that is doing what they intended,” DeSantis said Jan. 17.
More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved the medical marijuana Florida Constitutional Amendment in 2016, but the state struggled under Gov. Rick Scott to implement it.
“Everyone knew what that amendment meant.” DeSantis said last week. “I mean, it was very clear. There was an overwhelming support for it. So we’ve just got to enact a statute that is going to pass constitutional muster.”
Senate President Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said both the state Senate and House have agreed to separate the issue of smokable medical marijuana from the broader issue of providing greater access to the medical treatment.
Two bills have been filed in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, and Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, to allow smokable marijuana as part of the 2016 constitutional amendment authorizing the use of medical marijuana that voters overwhelmingly approved.
But there is more resistance in the House, where House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, said lawmakers are concerned that the move is some type of attempt to allow recreational marijuana.
“We would like to have something on the governor’s desk. And we would like to do it in the time that he has allotted. The devil in the details is always that there are two (legislative)chambers and people have to come to an understanding of what the definition of what you’re trying to accomplish really is,” Oliva said at the AP meeting.
He said some lawmakers in the House have several concerns. Among them: the possibility of children smoking marijuana; figuring out which types of medical treatment marijuana can be used for; and how dosages would be controlled.
“There is no other medicine that a doctor gives out where they don’t recommend a dosage and how it’s taken,” Oliva said. “These are things we have to look at. Is medicine a façade and a masquerade for recreational marijuana? If it is, that won’t be very supported by the House.”
“If we really to want to look at marijuana and what ailments it could truly relieve and what people it could actually benefit, that’s what we’re looking at. And we will continue to do it in an honest way,” he added.
If DeSantis rejects whatever legislation lawmakers come up with this spring, the governor can still exercise his option to drop the state’s appeal of court ruling that found the 2016 constitutional amendment does allow sick people to smoke marijuana, and not just take it in other forms like tinctures, oils and creams. (Former Gov. Rick Scott, who resisted implementing the voter-approved Constitutional amendment was the one who filed the appeal.)
Oliva said despite his reservations, lawmakers may still reach an agreement on the smokable marijuana issue.
“It’s too early to think we’re not going to come up with anything. I just think we’re having the conversation at the beginning of the process,” he said.
Meanwhile, state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried – a lawyer, a former medical marijuana lobbyist, and the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida – reiterated her plea at the AP meeting to allow smokable marijuana and expand the availability of the drug for sick Floridians.
“The people of Florida clearly spoke when they voted for access to medical marijuana,” she said.
Fried said the issue has taken on a personal urgency for her, as her mother is now suffering from cancer and cannot find any medical relief.
“She is struggling to find the medicine that relieves her suffering. The fact that she can’t find access to medicine breaks my heart every day,” Fried said. “We have a moral and legal obligation to act in our patients’ best interest and expand access to medical marijuana so that sick and suffering people can get the medicine that they need.”
She called for an increase the number of licenses for medical marijuana growers, stronger competition, more affordable products and greater access for patients.
Fried also said health insurance companies should offer medical marijuana coverage as part of their prescription plans.
She said she had hopes that DeSantis will simply drop the state’s appeal of the smokable marijuana court ruling.
“I would be happy to testify in any Senate or House committee or talk to any legislators about the need and the importance about getting the smokable flower to our patients,” she said.
She said many patients have extremely vulnerable immune systems and need the “purest form” of the drug.
“Everything they are getting now, while it is clean, it is also a different delivery mechanism that isn’t working,” Fried said, citing the case of her mother.
Fried said her agency is in the process of hiring a “cannabis director,” and will create a medical marijuana committee to offer a place where Floridians can offer their ideas or file their complaints.