House, Senate close to a deal
BY DARA KAM
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE ‒ With plenty of breathing room before a March 15 deadline set by Gov. Ron DeSantis, House and Senate leaders have neared completion of a measure that would do away with a state ban on smoking medical marijuana.
Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Ray Rodrigues confirmed Wednesday they’ve reached an accord on a proposal that would allow patients to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for smoking every 35 days, ban smoking of medical marijuana in public places and allow terminally ill children to smoke the treatment, but only if they have a second opinion from a pediatrician.
After taking office in January, DeSantis gave the Legislature until March 15 to eliminate the smoking ban. If lawmakers don’t act, DeSantis has threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court decision that found the prohibition ran afoul of a voter-approved constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.
Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed an amendment late Tuesday that’s a blueprint for the repeal of the smoking prohibition. He predicted the full Senate could amend its smoking-ban legislation (SB 182) and take a floor vote as early as Thursday ‒ after the Florida Courier’s Wednesday night press time.
Rodrigues, R-Estero, said Brandes’ amendment “is what we’ve agreed upon.” Both legislators said a few “glitches” remain to be worked out.
House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, had balked at doing away with the smoking ban, which was included in a 2017 law aimed at carrying out the 2016 constitutional amendment. But after DeSantis delivered the ultimatum, the House made a series of concessions to reach a compromise with the Senate, which historically has taken a less-restrictive approach toward medical marijuana.
“The House’s concern is that we believe the people voted for medical marijuana. We do not believe the people voted for recreational marijuana, and if there’s no limit, then the concern is there could be an excess amount of product that’s out there. We believe that would be diverted for recreational purposes,” said Rodrigues, who has long been a House leader on medical-marijuana issues.
Rodrigues said the House would “most likely” take up the Senate measure early next week if the bill clears the Senate.
Under current law, doctors are allowed to order three 70-day supplies of medical marijuana for their patients, effectively requiring patients to see doctors every 210 days. There are no caps on daily doses and no limits on how much doctors can order for their patients.
The Senate plan for smoking would keep the doctor-visit timeline, but patients would be restricted to filling a single, 35-day order for smokable marijuana at a time. The maximum for a 35 day order would be 2.5 ounces of smokable marijuana, and patients would not be allowed to have any more than 4 ounces of marijuana at any time.
Marijuana for smoking would have to be packaged “in a sealed receptacle” with a warning label stating that “marijuana smoke contains carcinogens and may negatively affect health.” The packages must be “plain, opaque, and white without depictions of the product or images” other than state-approved logos for the marijuana businesses and “the marijuana universal symbol.”
Some critics have complained about requiring patients to get their marijuana orders filled every 35 days. But Brandes pointed out that Florida law allows medical-marijuana operators to deliver cannabis products to patients. That means that, if their doctors approve smokable marijuana, patients wouldn’t have to travel to a dispensary every month.