A Florida Senate committee on Monday reluctantly advanced a bill that would let Floridians smoke medical marijuana but added a series of barriers that would make it hard for patients to access the drug.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has given lawmakers until March 15 to come up with legislation to allow sick Floridians to smoke medical marijuana as part of a state constitutional amendment that 71 percent of voters approved in 2016.
State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, offered his bill (SB 182) to the Senate Health Policy Committee that would allow Floridians with cancer, lupus or other diseases to use smokable, whole-flower medical marijuana. Brandes and other proponents say having access to the whole plant is medically more beneficial for patients than using the extracted products now available.
But Sen. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican, successfully amended the bill on Monday, adding a series of restrictions to using smokable marijuana.
The new provisions require a doctor to certify that the smokable marijuana is “the only means” of providing a medical benefit to the patient. And the amendment requires a second doctor confirm that diagnosis before granting access to the drug.
“This (amended) bill simply puts safeguards in in order to protect patients if they choose to smoke it, if their doctor says that this the only way that they’re going to get the true medical benefits of marijuana,” Harrell said. “I think this is a right step in the right direction.”
Brandes said the new provisions significantly restrict access to smokable marijuana “almost to the point of being prohibitive.”
Brandes objected to requiring doctors to say smokable marijuana was the “only” way to benefit from the drug. He said the policy should allow doctors to decide if it is the “best” way for patients to benefit from the drug.
He and other medical marijuana proponents also objected to requiring a second doctor to approve the drug use. They said it would add substantial costs to acquiring the drug, which is not currently covered by insurance companies.
Despite the amendment, Brandes supported moving the bill out its first Senate committee on Monday, but he warned he would not support the bill if it is not overhauled later in the legislative process.
“It is a bill that I believe will have to be significantly amended before I could recommend to this body that we present this to the full Legislature, and frankly look people in the eye and tell them they would be better off,” Brandes said.
Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker Jose Oliva said last week they will try to comply with DeSantis’ request to pass a smokable medical marijuana bill by March 15. But they also said it was uncertain how that legislation would play out.
If DeSantis is not satisfied with the legislative effort, he will have the option of dropping the appeal of a key lawsuit the state is fighting against smokeable marijuana.
DeSantis has been vocal in his support for using smokable medical marijuana, saying he believes it was part of the amendment passed in 2016.