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Sheriff Explains Medical Pot Bill Support

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 latest push to legalize medical marijuana in Florida is getting support from law enforcement.

Back in November, voters defeated Amendment 2, and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, now wants to run the idea by Florida's legislature.

One supporter of this legislative approach is Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who tells WUSF News that  while he opposed Amendment 2,  there's more to like in SB 528.

“What I support is Sen. Brandes beginning that dialogue and I think that there are some reasonable and good measures in his bill that are totally different than what was in that disaster of a constitutional amendment,” Gualtieri said. “And I say that's a disaster because one, it would have been in the Florida Constitution, which means it’s indelible."

Under the proposed Florida Medical Marijuana Act, patients suffering from certain conditions or symptoms could get access to medical marijuana if they are certified by their physician.

"It needs work, and there are some things I don't agree with. It still allows it in 'smokeable' form, which I would oppose, so it's not certainly a blanket endorsement of that bill itself,” Gualtieri said. “What it is, is an endorsement of bringing it to the right process in the right place, to have that dialogue and then make a decision as to whether that should happen here in Florida."

The bill would allow qualified patients suffering from certain conditions or symptoms to access marijuana, if certified by their doctor. A doctor would have to see the patient on a regular basis for a period of at least three months before they could certify that patient for medical marijuana use, the bill states.

"This is about mitigating certain types of symptoms, or trying to deal with certain types of conditions, and so we want to make sure this is part of the treatment of that condition, and we think that in order to do that, you have to have a long-term relationship with that patient," said Brandes, who filed the bill on Monday.

Patients would then be required to register with the Florida Department of Health, which will maintain an online registry.

Health insurance companies are neither required or restricted from covering the purchase of medical-grade marijuana, according to the bill.

This latest proposal follows the 2014 Legislature's approval of a liquid-based form of medical marijuana, commonly known as Charlotte's Web. Details of the production and distribution of that drug -- known to be used most by children who suffer seizures -- are still part of an ongoing debate.

Lawmakers will consider the proposal during the upcoming legislative session, which starts March 3.

Lottie Watts covers health and health policy for Health News Florida, now a part of WUSF Public Media. She also produces Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.