FL Senate needs to ‘hold the line’ on medical marijuana THC limits, senator says

FL Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

A powerful state senator vowed Tuesday to resist efforts in the Florida House to limit the potency of cannabis available under Florida’s medical marijuana program.

“What you’re hearing us say is that the Senate needs to hold the line,” Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, said during a news conference outside the Senate chamber.

He urged legislators to educate themselves about medical marijuana, especially as a treatment for post-traumatic stress and other service-related medical problems suffered by active duty servicemembers and veterans.

House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Republican from Miami-Dade County, has called for limiting levels of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, to 10 percent. He cited the emergence of high-octane cannabis varieties. However, no House marijuana-related legislation appears to be moving very far in the lower chamber.

Still, anything can happen as the Legislature nears its schedule adjournment date. “In the Senate we’re working, obviously, behind the scenes and, frankly, here [with the news conference] to make sure that people know we’re holding the line,” Brandes said.

“In many ways, Florida has turned the corner on medical cannabis and we think this [the legislation] would be a significant step backward.”

Joining Brandes were veterans associated with the Veterans Cannabis Project, which advocates for making the drug available to former members of the armed forces.

Dr. Kirk O’Donnell, a senior medical adviser to the organization, said that in his experience cannabis has “proven to be a very effective treatment option that is greatly preferred over the dangerous prescription combinations that my patients were using,” including opiates.

Other veterans described suffering threats to their military jobs and benefits when the brass learned they used cannabis, which Florida voters approved through a constitutional amendment in 2016.