Amendment 2

Quick pot bites from the floor

Lawmakers are set to pass a roll-out of Amendment 2, the constitutional proposal overwhelmingly approved by voters last year that legalized medical marijuana for a broad swath of patients.

Yesterday’s debate over the pot legislation — which would add 10 MMJ licenses to the state’s current 7 operators and set a cap of 25 dispensaries per operator (sort of) — included some exchanges that elicited groans, giggles and gasps from the 5th floor press galleries and others observing the fireworks.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who sponsored an amendment that would have allowed patients to smoke marijuana products said the smoking ban is unconstitutional.

“There’s going to e a lawsuit and we’re going to lose,” he said.

Clemens also rejected arguments that patients shouldn’t be allowed to smoke pot because smoking isn’t healthy, pointing out that some patients are terminally ill or suffer from diseases like ALS.

“Are we really going to tell those folks that we’re worried about your lung health 30 years down the road when you’ve got six months to live? That’s absurd,” he said.

Questions about who would benefit from a component of the bill that would give preference to current or one-time citrus processors who want to gain entree into the pot industry were largely left unanswered.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, offered an amendment on the floor that would have stricken the provision from the bill, using an olfactory analogy to prove his point.

“You and I know this doesn’t smell right,” Brandes, who has pushed a broad expansion of the marijuana market.”There are industries that go in and out of business all the time.
You should allow a process that allows everyone to compete.”

Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who once served as president of the chamber, backed him up.

“Enough’s enough,” Lee said, adding that the provision should have allowed health officials to also give preference to other facilities “situated for reuse” in blighted or economically depressed areas. “But my guess is this is for one company. We’re just about soon to find out who it is. For me enough’s enough. Enough’s enough.”

That drew an explanation from Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

“First of all, the way this language is written is for no one that is guaranteed a license. It is very specific that says you have a better opportunity,” Simpson said in what was, for him, an unusually long response.

Simpson said health officials might give the citrus processors “two additional points” when scoring the applications, and that the provision could help a failing industry.

In certain parts of the state, “you will see these large factories that used to be orange (producers) with hundreds of jobs and sometimes thousands of jobs,” Simpson said.

“Dade City, Florida, had two of these facilities. Both are gone. And today we have more than 20 of these facilities where farmers and groups of farmers have tens of millions of dollars of capital tied up in these facilities and now they are shuttered. This amendment simply says that in the process of adding to license holders they can have a consideration of favorability, all other things being equal,” he said. “These are food-grade facilities. These aren’t just farmers with stands on the side of the road.”

In the lower chamber, a discussion of the ban on smoking included in the legislation prompted an intra-party dispute.

Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat who was instrumental in the passage of the state’s 2014 low-THC marijuana law, read from the language of the amendment, which said that smoking can be forbidden in public places.

She noted that lawmakers are being hammered by proponents of the measure who insist that the amendment allows patients to smoke pot products, a campaign that’s generated the hashtag #nosmokeisajoke.

“It’s very easy to get sidetracked and come up with hashtags and campaigns,” Edwards, a lawyer, said. “I do not want us to be sued. Nobody here wants to be sued because you know what? A lawsuit benefits one attorney, one firm. It does not help us get this to the patients quicker.”

Rob Bradley predicted the medical marijuana legislation would evolve into an annual examination, much like fights over alcohol laws.

“We are going to open this law and revisit it and tweak it every year. There’s an alcohol bill every year. …and there’s going to be a marijuana bill every year,” Bradley, who’s been in charge of the pot legislation for the past three years.

Bradley also defended an element of the bill that allows local governments to ban dispensaries but, cities and counties can’t limit the number of retail outlets if they permit them at all.

“I’ll be very frank. This language makes some of the incumbents mad. This language makes some of the counties and cities not particularly happy,” he said.

The provision was intended to “strike a balance” between local control and guaranteeing access to medical marijuana to patients, Bradley said.

“This is not a joke. This isn’t Cheech and Chong. This is serious medicine, and it should be treated as such,” he said.

Bradley on medical pot: ‘sense of urgency’

IMG_0600With 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