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Lawmakers Pushing Forward On Marijuana But Not In A Vacuum

Marijuana could soon be legal in Florida for terminal patients.
US Fish and Wildlife Service
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Marijuana could soon be legal in Florida for terminal patients.
Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service
The Florida Channel
Marijuana could soon be legal in Florida for terminal patients.

Two Republican lawmakers are pitching a moderate expansion of the medical marijuana system they pushed through the Legislature almost two years ago.  The measure removes limits on potency, but only for terminally ill patients.

The driving force behind 2014’s Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act in the Florida Senate was Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island).  But he says ever since passing that measure—aimed primarily at treating people with intractable epilepsy—constituents have been coming to his door.

“And this is not a political partisan issue,” Bradley says.  “Constituents on the right and the left who said I appreciate the fact that you listened to these suffering families and their children who had these—who had seizures.  Let me tell you my story.”

And those stories have encouraged Bradley and his House counterpart—Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach)—to make another run at medical marijuana.  This time, Gaetz explains, the aim is to provide relief for terminally ill patients by allowing marijuana under the Right to Try Act, and he’s pulled in Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Sunrise) as a cosponsor.

“So the legislation before you now that Representative Edwards and I are offering would allow dying patients for whom there are two doctors who have signed something saying they have less than a year to live or a year than less to live to be able to use cannabis to alleviate their pain,” Gaetz says.

But there are some like Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) who remain hostile to medical marijuana.

“We’ve got a train wreck here folks,” Baxley says.  “This is a mess, this is not the way to do it, there is a problem to solve, and I appreciate the great effort of the sponsor, but I couldn’t vote for this in its current format.”

Baxley voiced concern about an amendment expanding the number of licensed producers of the drug from five to twenty.  Others argue against the strategy.  That’s because rather than amending existing marijuana legislation, supporters are trying to bring marijuana within the scope of last year’s Right To Try Act.  Bradley and Gaetz say there’s a very good reason—they don’t want to throw off the Department of Health.  It’s on the verge of awarding licenses after being dogged by legal challenges as nurseries jockey for those five golden tickets. 

“Really senator, there ought to be a very, very tortuous level of Dante’s Inferno reserved for those who have stood in the way of your legislation these last two years,” Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville)—Rep. Gaetz’s father—said to Bradley in committee, before asking, “Does this bill solve it or does this bill leave us in that same predicament?”

In truth, the new Right To Try bill probably won’t effect on how quickly patients get the drug, and the sluggish progress of existing legislation isn’t the only external consideration.  People United For Medical Marijuana is gathering signatures for another ballot initiative—in 2014 their proposal fell short of passage by just over two percent.  The organization has more than half the signatures it needs for the 2016 ballot.  Some worry Gaetz and Bradley’s bill is a way to undercut the initiative’s momentum.  But regulated industries attorney Richard Blau says it could just as easily be an argument in support of the proposition. 

“We’ve managed to open the door with charlotte’s web, we’ve taken a step forward with right to try, you know the world hasn’t come to a cataclysmic conclusion, on the contrary, people that have desperately needed and wanted this relief are now able to get it, and the logical next step is to move forward—again—cautiously.”

It should be noted while Blau is not personally connected, lawyers from his firm Gray Robinson represent clients applying for marijuana cultivation licenses and the Florida House in redistricting litigation.  He believes the slow rate of progress on medical use is a reflection of the deep unease some in the state—and in the statehouse—have with marijuana.  Heading toward Thanksgiving, families who need treatment are likely hoping the process will take another step forward by naming nurseries. 

Then they’ll cross their fingers that isn’t followed by two steps back.

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Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.