Senate Cannabis Workshop Full Of Questions, Light On Answers

Mar 23, 2017
Originally published on March 22, 2017 5:46 pm

Senators spent Wednesday afternoon kicking the tires on a medical marijuana proposal backed by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley.

At this point, medical cannabis isn’t a new issue in the Florida Legislature.  Republican lawmakers have brought forward proposals in each session since the state approved low-THC marijuana in 2014—Democrats have been introducing measures even longer.  Still the state Senate is handling the issue with kid gloves.  Few ideas have proven more divisive, and the differing perspectives can be seen in the number of proposals competing within the chamber. 

At the outset of Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate Health Policy committee, Chair Dana Young (R-Tampa) rattled off the five different bills.  The staff created a 17 page, color-coded spreadsheet—with a column for each of the bills and rows for policy positions.

What’s a debilitating condition?  How can the drug be consumed?  Do minors have access?

Each one a potential landmine. 

The hearing focused particularly on the measure backed by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) with Young filling in comparisons to the other proposals.

Bradley’s idea is one of the more conservative proposals—maintaining much of the current framework for growing, distributing and selling marijuana. 

“So where do we go from here?” Bradley asked, “We need to build on the foundation that has been laid, learn from the mistakes we’ve made—which there are mistakes—and build on our successes.  Which although it doesn’t get reported a lot, there are successes.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) wants to abandon that system and establish a more free-market model.  The authors of Amendment Two are backing that proposal.  But Bradley argues marijuana is medicine and it needs to be treated differently.

“Senators this is not the selling of lawn mowers or office supplies,” Bradley says.  “In those cases there should be free markets free from government oversight.”

Young believes each proposal offers interesting ideas, and she’s aiming to braid them together before the measure passes through her committee.  But that means settling a number of significant questions. 

Some of them, like a 90 day patient-doctor relationship, are easy.

“I think it’s worth noting here that all of the bills do away, I believe all of them, do away with the three month waiting period that’s in existing law,” Young says—a major bone of contention at the last cannabis hearing.

Some, like the number of eligible growers, vary widely.  But Bradley is ready to amend his original proposal.

“You know I do believe that [SB]406 is too restrictive,” Bradley says of his own bill, “based on the feedback I’ve received from many of colleagues in terms of the number of licenses and the competition that would need to be created.”

Others are relatively new—Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Meyers) raises the question of long term visitors.

“How would we deal with that?” She asks.  “Because I know I’m not the only district in the state that has a snowbird population who might get ill while they’re in town.”

Senators raised a number of other significant questions as well, but answers will have to wait.  The committee held no vote, and whatever changes they agree on will likely be discussed at the next hearing.  

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