Goodman: Florida House loosens up on medical marijuana, but not to smoking it

The Florida House has overwhelmingly passed a bill setting out rules for medical marijuana that’s much less restrictive than before, but the legislators are being picky about how patients take the substance.

A vaporizer or a brownie? No problem. A pipe or cigarette? No way.

The House bill, passed by a 105-9 vote on Tuesday, settles most of the differences with the more relaxed Senate bill, but it still doesn’t go far enough to please the backers of the constitutional amendment that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.

“This is still a fatally flawed piece of legislation,” Ben Pollara, policy director for United for Care, the group that pushed the amendment, told Miami New Times.

The details are important because, although Floridians approved Amendment 2 in November by more than 71 percent, it’s up to the Republican-led Legislature to hammer out rules for how medical pot will be grown, distributed, prescribed and used. It’s all supposed to be ready for patients in September — and will be in effect for years.

Related stories from the Palm Beach Post:

Advocates want medical marijuana in Florida, but not like California

How did weed win in a landslide? Credit the white rural voters who gave Florida to Trump

Florida doctors have mixed opinions about medical marijuana

Amendment 2 passes in landslide: What’s next for legal pot?

Under the House’s proposal (HB 1397), patients with one of about a dozen “qualifying conditions” — including cancer, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy — could be certified to obtain medical marijuana by a doctor. But not all chronic pains will be equal under this law.

“The bill also says that patients with chronic pain can access the drug, but only if that pain is directly linked to a debilitating condition that would have qualified them regardless,” the Herald/Times reports.

The House made a number of notable improvements after negotiating with the Senate. As the Sun Sentinel reports:

  • Noneuphoric forms of marijuana can now be used in public. Public use of full-strength medical marijuana remains a misdemeanor.
  • Pregnant patients can now get noneuphoric, low-THC marijuana. Previously, they were banned from using marijuana at all.
  • The number of medical marijuana growing licenses will increase by 10 before July of next year. (There are currently seven licensed growers.) Then, four new licenses will be available for every 100,000 patients.

The Senate is expected to take up its bill (SB 406) on the floor for the first time today.

By allowing patients to use vaporizers or edibles but not to smoke marijuana products, the House is violating the spirit of Amendment 2, critics say.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, pointed out that marijuana is safer than prescription drugs that have caused a statewide crisis in addictions and overdoses:

“Would we rather have them use dangerous prescription drugs … or would we prefer that they smoke a bowl and go to sleep and actually wake up the next morning?” Smith asked. “Who are we to tell legitimate patients that they can’t smoke their cannabis? That is not our business, members. It’s not our business to infringe upon their personal freedoms; it’s not our business to infringe on the sacred patient-doctor relationship.”

Critics also worry that by capping the number of growers and distributors too strictly, the state will create cartels that will jack up prices and limit choices. “Patients will be driven to the black market,” Pollara said.

But House Majority Ray Rodigues, the sponsor of his chamber’s bill, noted that marijuana is still an illegal Schedule 1 drug in the eyes of the federal government. He said it’s a balancing act to fulfill the wishes of Florida voters while not violating federal law. There’s also a strong desire among legislators to prevent medical pot from becoming a back-door way of condoning recreational marijuana.