One of the biggest end-of-session’s was the Legislature’s failure to pass a measure to establish the framework for a voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.
For patients, lawmakers’ inability to reach consensus on a bill doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to get access to the treatment, since the amendment gives the Department of Health until October to craft rules governing the industry.
But the agency’s problematic history with the roll out of the state’s 2014 low-THC medical marijuana statute — which paved the way for today’s law — has many patients, advocates and potential vendors giving the Legislature the stink-eye for failing to pass a plan.
Even some GOP lawmakers — fully aware that more than 71 percent of voters approved Amendment 2 in November — are unhappy that they couldn’t strike a deal on the issue.
Implementation of the measure now rests in the hands of Department of Health officials, who have spent more than $1.3 million on legal fees and costs defending rules and challenges related to licenses since the 2014 law went into effect.
Lawmakers — including Sen. Rob Bradley, sponsor of the 2014 and 2017 bills — have been highly critical of the department’s handling of the 2014 law and subsequent challenges.
It’s no wonder, then, that many lawmakers are frustrated that a leadership stalemate thwarted their ability to establish control of the amendment.
But is the legislative angst powerful enough to warrant a special session on the issue?
House Speaker Richard Corcoran told us he’d be happy to extend the current session — slated to end at midnight, with all issues other than the budget off the table — to include medical marijuana.
The Legislature “absolutely” should be considering a special session on the MMJ issue, Corcoran said in a telephone interview Sunday evening.
But there’s a caveat to what the Land O’ Lakes Republican wants.
The House would “be willing to have a special session to pass the will of the voters, if the Senate would comply” with the House plan, he said.
That’s not a likely scenario, based on a conversation with Senate President Joe Negron this weekend.
Negron said the House’s plan — 100 dispensaries each for the state’s medical marijuana operators, currently numbered at 7 but which could grow to 17 in about a year — basically protects “incumbent” operators and effectively shuts out competitors.
Late Sunday, Negron said he was focused on the budget and hadn’t given a special session on pot much thought.
Once the budget is completed, ” then I want to look at that possibility in a systematic way, first by discussing it with senators, then with the governor and speaker,” Negron said.
A Scott spokeswoman said “Our office is reviewing our options on this issue,” when asked about a special session.
The governor isn’t getting much love, to put it mildly, from fellow GOP lawmakers on the medical marijuana legislation.
Scott was traveling around the state for the last three days of the session, pushing lawmakers — from afar — to accede to his funding requests for Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida and the Lake Okeechobee dike.
One GOP lawmaker called Scott an “absentee landlord” when asked if the governor could have brokered a marijuana deal between the House and the Senate.
But Negron said the philosophical divide was too great for Scott — or anyone — to resolve.
“I think Gov. Scott reasonably expected the Legislature to do its job in implementing medical marijuana, and it was our responsibility to accomplish that, not his,” Negron said.