With a July 3 deadline fast approaching, state health officials have crafted what’s designed as a speedy way to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for patients with debilitating medical conditions.
The amendment gives the Department of Health until July 3 to create a regulatory scheme for what could be one of the largest medical marijuana markets in the country.
The agency yesterday announced a process aimed at avoiding protracted delays involving challenges typically made via the state’s Administrative Procedures Act.
Health officials are moving forward with the alternative procedure after lawmakers failed to pass a measure to implement the amendment.
The implementation bill became a battle between the state’s seven marijuana operators — disparagingly dubbed “golden ticket” winners by industry wannabes — and groups trying to set up shop in a state that’s home to an estimated 400,000 patients, by DOH counts.
Lawmakers are facing increasing pressure to hold a special session on the issue, but legislative leaders are unlikely to return to Tallahassee just to craft a pot deal.
Gov. Rick Scott‘s red ink, however, could cause some cannabis reconsideration.
Scott is being pushed to kill an education measure that has a $400 million price tag, and the governor could also veto the state’s entire public school education budget.
That would force the Legislature to come back to the Capitol, which might make pot more palatable.
“We may be back sooner rather than later to deal with the budget, based on what decisions the governor makes,” Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has shepherded marijuana bills for the past three years, said yesterday. “If we come back to Tallahassee to deal with the budget, that provides an opportunity to expand the call to include medical marijuana.”
Folks trying to get in on Florida’s green rush fear that DOH bureaucrats won’t do much to expand the industry by increasing the number of marijuana operator licenses.
Even Bradley is considered that the agency is going to “preserve the status quo.”
While there’s much consternation over a special session and who’s going to implement the amendment — and how — Bradley pointed out that patients are already able to purchase pot products.
“I gain a small level of comfort in the fact that because of the work that we did in 2014 there is already marijuana growing and being processed in the state of Florida. That’s not good enough, though. We need to provide further regulation,” he said.
Bradley was instrumental in the passage of the state’s low-THC, high-CBD marijuana law, which made the non-euphoric treatment available for patients with epilepsy, severe muscle spasms or cancer. The law was passed in 2014, in anticipation that voters would approve Amendment 2’s predecessor that year. The proposal narrowly failed to capture the 60 percent of the vote required for passage.
Last year, Bradley sponsored a measure that legalized “full-strength” marijuana for terminally ill patients, thus allowing marijuana operators to start cultivating traditional pot even before voters last fall overwhelmingly signed off on the second attempt at legalizing medical marijuana in Florida.
“We knew back in 2014 that this day would come. And it’s important to keep in mind that if we had not done what we did in 2014 there would be no marijuana being grown in the state of Florida and we would be at least a year-and-a-half behind,” he said.
Bradley said he has “a sense of urgency” to implement the amendment, but it’s important to remember that marijuana is being grown, processed and delivered to patients right now.
Still, he said, “Should there be fewer barriers to access to marijuana? Yes. And that’s what we need to work on.”
— Posted by Dara Kam