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Changes Blooming In Senate Pot Plan

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The leader of the Senate's move to jump-start Florida's medical marijuana industry has agreed to increase the level of euphoria-inducing THC in the limited types of pot allowed under a nearly year-old law.

Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley also has signed off on a change to make room for nurseries that don't meet current criteria in the law, which restricts "dispensing organizations" to growers who have been in business in Florida for at least 30 years and grow a minimum of 400,000 plants. None of the state's black farmers would be eligible under the current law.

Bradley told The News Service of Florida on Monday he is holding off on a medical marijuana bill, scheduled to be heard and amended on the Senate floor Tuesday, until next week while he works out changes to his proposal with his Senate colleagues and the House.

"It looks like right now that we're likely going to delay so that we make sure that the (legislative) product we get is right and not quick. We don't want to be rushed into anything," Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said.

Frustrated by delays in a rule-making process that has prevented the marijuana law from moving forward in January as planned, Bradley is shepherding a measure that would create a regulatory framework for the pot industry and broaden the law, pushed last year by parents of children who suffer from life-threatening seizures caused by epilepsy.

Until recently, Bradley had resisted attempts to change the levels of euphoria- inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, now capped at .08 percent, and cannabadiol, or CBD, now required to make up at least 10 percent of the marijuana or by-products. CBD is the compound in cannabis that doesn't make users feel "high" but is believed to alleviate symptoms, including spasms, for a wide range of conditions.

Bradley's effort this year would also increase the types of patients, now limited to those with severe muscle spasms or cancer, who would be eligible for the treatment. Under his new proposal, doctors could also order the pot for patients with AIDS, ALS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, paraplegia, quadriplegia or terminal illness. The treatment could also be ordered to alleviate symptoms of the diseases.

But critics of the proposal complain that the THC levels currently in the law are too low to aid the additional patients in Bradley's bill (SB 7066).

Supporters of a broader bill have urged Bradley and others to raise the ratio of THC to CBD to at least one-to-one. Some proponents are asking lawmakers to raise the THC level to 10 or 15 percent and lower the minimum CBD level.

"It's too early to tell, but those are certainly numbers that are being considered," Bradley said Monday.

Last month, leaders of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association told a Senate panel the current law's exclusion of black farmers reignited old wounds caused by discriminatory lending practices imposed by the federal government decades ago that led to two class-action lawsuits. The lawsuits, known as "Pigford I" and "Pigford II," were finally settled by a federal judge in 2011 but many of the claimants have yet to receive their portions of the $1.3 billion settlement, the largest civil-rights settlement in U.S. history.

"We're talking with our friends who have raised the issues about fairness in the marketplace for all people who participate in our agricultural economy," Bradley said.

But even the changes Bradley is now considering aren't likely to satisfy proponents of a medical-marijuana ballot initiative that failed in November to capture the 60 percent approval from voters required for passage. A campaign known as "United for Care" is working to get a similar measure onto next year's ballot.

"From a perspective of where I am trying to get something passed that benefits the most number of people, I don't think 15 percent would be acceptable to us. It doesn't matter what percent they put on it if the list of diseases is closed and as small as it currently is and if they don't include symptoms, particularly, chronic pain," said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care.