Division In Tallahassee Sows Anxiety In St. Johns County Over Pot Laws

Mar 26, 2017
Originally published on March 24, 2017 5:26 pm

At least six competing plans ranging from the most restrictive to the most permissive expansions of medical marijuana in Florida are working their way through the state Legislature. And the division is wearing down the patience of state residents, who overwhelmingly supported the measure.


Six marijuana bills being debated in Tallahassee diverge on a number of issues, including which diseases should qualify for marijuana treatment, who should be able to grow and sell the drug and where they can set up shop. Five are in the Senate and one was filed in the House by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, wants to start a new, more liberal, regulatory framework from scratch, while his Senate colleague, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, wants to use the existing, more restrictive apparatus.

Shortly after the election, Bradley told WJCT he foresaw a smooth implementation of the new amendment.

“We are not getting caught flat-footed. There is infrastructure already in place,“ he said.

But the uncertainty is weighing heavily on leaders in St. Johns County.

“Hopefully the legislature passes a bill that leaves it clear what the county can and can't do,” Assistant County Attorney Paolo Soria said.

He added that though the county recently passed a temporary moratorium on pot shops, its residents overwhelmingly supported Amendment 2 — more than seven in 10 voted yes to expand the drug’s use.

In the absence of a clear message from Tallahassee, Soria said, county leaders are putting their own residents in the driver’s seat. The county is collecting public comments and holding a workshop April 13.

“We’ve seen around the state that the zoning runs the gamut from very permissive to very restrictive. There’s also different forms of licensing, whether by one per district like currently exists in Jacksonville to a licensing scheme in other counties and that’s what we would like to get some input on before we start drafting regulations,” he said.

For now, Florida leaders don’t seem to be earning high marks for their implementation efforts.

According to a statewide poll from the right-leaning Frabrizio, Lee & Associates, a plurality of Floridians aren’t happy with how the governor and the legislature have handled the rollout.

Although his prescribed, non-euphoric marijuana became legal three years ago, disabled army veteran and Jacksonville resident Gabriel George only received his first medi-pot delivery in January,the same day the new Amendment 2 went into effect.

George uses the medical cannabis for debilitating seizures and constant pain sustained from a motorcycle accident.

“I broke my C2, C5, six ribs, my collar bone, scapula, both lungs collapsed which ripped the nerves my spinal cord which paralyzed my right arm,” he said.

So although George has his cannabis oil in hand, a legislative fight over implementing the amendment is threatening to slow treatment for hundreds of thousands more Floridians who’d be covered under the expansion.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

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