This year’s legislative session will look at a number of bills involving medical marijuana. The state created an outline for its initial medical marijuana industry in 2014. It allows for the production of a non-euphoric strain of cannabis. Now, some legislators want to expand the current program – or just create an entirely new system.
The Florida legislature is figuring out how far to grow the state’s medical marijuana industry – an industry that could potentially involve a lot of people - and a lot of money.
State economists say a potential ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana could involve as many as 450,000 people per year - and that could mean as much as $357 million in sales tax revenue by April 2017.
But some state lawmakers like Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, want the next move in expanding medical marijuana to be a small step.
“We're really going into some very unchartered territory with this and we're trying to be as deliberate - you know - kind of like measure twice, cut once,” she said.
Edwards and State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, co-sponsored a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana. The bill would broaden a state law that lets terminal patients use experimental drugs.
It would build on the state’s current medical marijuana program. Right now, there are five nurseries that will grow, process and distribute the non-euphoric strain of marijuana. That strain is meant to help patients suffering from cancer or epileptic seizures.
Edwards and Gaetz both pushed for that program, which became law in 2014. Edwards said more people reached out to her after that.
“We heard from patients all across the state asking us to please go back and consider ways that we could allow more patients to participate in what we call ‘cannabis-derived therapies,’” she said.
Cannabis-derived therapies means a marijuana-based product like a pill or an oil – but nothing smokeable.
Edwards said the bill gives terminal patients a comfortable alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.
“So I think when people look at it and say, ‘I would rather be able to allow them to use cannabis to help with the nausea, with maybe their rest, allow them to get some sleep, allow them to be able to eat versus having them hooked up to an IV with morphine,’” she said.
The plants would be grown in the same five nurseries that are allowed under the current program.
So there are bills like Edwards’ – that expand the program by an inch – and then there are bills like the one filed by State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
Brandes described his bill as a “free market approach” to the state’s medical marijuana rules. Under his bill, businesses would get individual licenses to cultivate, process or distribute medical marijuana. Brandes said the current rules favor only five nurseries.
“You can’t scale up, you have no competition, no quality issues… you have less innovation - all of the things that we typically we in monopolistic markets would occur under the current regime of medical marijuana in Florida,” he said.
Brandes prefers no restrictions on the number of facilities that could get a license to either grow or process medical marijuana.
But, his bill limits the number of distribution centers to one per 50,000 residents in a county.
Brandes also wants to expand who can access medical marijuana like people suffering from Parkinson’s, Crohn’s disease or AID’s. But, his bill includes the vague category of “severe and persistent pain.”
“That is the one in which sheriffs and local law enforcement have a lot of trouble with because they see that as just essentially handing them out like a pill mill would,” he said. “So, we actually require that you have two physicians for pain. That one of those be physicians be board certified and they have to make a statement that they’ve tried other alternatives.”
These are not the only marijuana-related bills the legislature will consider this session – there are bills expanding uses for the current low-THC strain, bills tinkering with marijuana as a controlled substance and bills lessening penalties for possession.
There are also legislators who oppose any expansion of medical marijuana in the state.
But the scope of the medical marijuana bills in the upcoming legislative session shows many state lawmakers think this industry is only going to grow.