Legislature passes medical marijuana bill in special session

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TALLAHASSEE – The Florida House and Senate passed a long-awaited medical marijuana implementation bill on June 9 in a special session of the Florida Legislature.

Proponents of medical marijuana believe the bill will improve access to qualified patients.

The senate bill 8A introduced by Sen. Rob Bradley, [R-Fleming Island] replaces a 2014 bill that was widely admonished for providing narrow pathways for access, gradually increases the number of growers in the state and finalizes regulations on distribution, qualification and usage.

Voters affirmed their desire for greater access to the medicine last fall when they overwhelmingly supported Amendment 2 by a 71 percent vote.

Negotiations collapsed on the final day of the regular session after legislators failed to reach consensus on retail caps and whether the legislature should impose a tax on the medicine. Legislators assuaged fears that the both chambers could not agree by the end of the special session.

Both chambers ultimately decided on a statewide cap of 25 dispensing facilities until the statewide registry reaches 100,000 patients. At that point, the bill calls for adding four more dispensing facilities.

Legislators also agreed the medicine will not be taxed.

“It was a difficult negotiation, but we were able to cross the finish line and we are going to be able to provide safe, medicine for the people who are entitled to receive it under the constitution,” Bradley said.

The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk, with Scott saying he “absolutely intends to sign it.”

Rules for patients

Patients cannot smoke the medicine, although the bill allows for ‘vaping’ the medicine, and provides for other consumption methods such as edibles, oils and pills.

Patients can receive a 75-day supply of the medicine with two refills before they must go back to their doctor for requalification

The bill also removes a controversial provision that doctors have a prior relationship with their patient before recommendation and expands the list of qualifying conditions. The qualifying conditions are cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, ALS, Crohn’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple sclerosis, Chronic and nonmalignant pain.

The bill also provides the medicine for terminal patients who are determined medically-qualified through two separate recommending doctors.

However, private attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled Amendment 2, has already said he plans to file suit against the state for the bill’s failure to include smoking as a consumption method.

Bradley said Tuesday he isn’t concerned.

“We did what the voters intended us to do, speak to medical professionals,” he said. “The act of inhaling smoke into your lungs is an inherently unhealthy act, and there are a numerous number of healthy ways to consume marijuana. If we are serious about treating this as a medicine, then we should ensure that everyone who uses it uses it in a way that makes them more healthy, not less healthy.”

Rules for caregivers

Given many users may be bedridden or have inadequate transportation, the bill allows caregivers to purchase and administer the medicine for the user.

Caregivers must be older than 21, complete a $100 course and go unpaid for their work, to prevent an unintended caregiver industry popping up around the bill.

Caregivers also cannot be doctors and must pass a background check to complete their registration.

Patients can only have one caregiver unless they are in hospice or are developmentally challenged. Minors must also have a registered caregiver administer the medicine.

Moving forward

The bill forces vertical integration into the coming medical marijuana industry, meaning the same company that grows the seed must process it and ultimately sell it directly to patients. Bradley said this is to ensure the highest quality product for patients, and ensure safety in the process. Opponents have challenged this notion, saying it opens the door for a big corporate marijuana monopoly in the state.

With the bill’s passage, counties and municipalities across the state will soon begin the conversation on how to write zoning codes for dispensaries. Many localities currently have temporary moratoriums on the businesses until officials complete this process.

For a complete list of qualified recommending doctors, please visit the Florida Department of Health Office of Compassionate Use website.

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