Florida Senate passes medical marijuana implementing bill

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Legislature is closer to getting medical marijuana legislation passed.

The Senate approved a bill (HB 1397) on Thursday by a 31-7 vote. The measure passed the House on Tuesday but must return to that chamber, because of changes made by the Senate, before it can go to Gov. Rick Scott.

The bill could still make another visit to the Senate if the House makes more changes. Friday is the final day that all non-budget legislation must be passed in this year’s session.

The legislature and supporters of the state’s medical marijuana amendment agree on two important things — the legislation to get cannabis to Floridians isn’t perfect but it’s best to get something in place because it is an evolving industry.

“Everyone is running around scared of the decisions we are going to make because of the money on the line. This doesn’t end tomorrow,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, a Republican from Orange Park who sponsored the bill. “We will be dealing with this every session as this product and patients evolve.”

The House and Senate agree on most key parts of a bill putting rules in place for Amendment 2. The amendment, approved by 71 percent of voters last November, was enacted on Jan. 3. It must be implemented by October and rules have to be in place by July.

Currently, low-THC and non-smoked cannabis can be used by patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms. The law was expanded last year to include patients with terminal conditions and allowed them to use higher strains.

The bill would allow those who suffer chronic pain related to one of 10 qualifying conditions to receive either low-THC cannabis or full strength medical marijuana.

Patients could receive an order for three 70-day supplies during a doctor’s visit that they can then take to a medical marijuana treatment center. Besides oils and sprays, those centers would be allowed to expand sales to edibles and vaping products but smoking would still be banned.

The smoking prohibition could be opposed in the courts. John Morgan, who was the major driving force behind getting the amendment passed, has already threatened legal action.

Some legislators would also like to see smoking allowed. Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Democrat from Lake Worth, said during Thursday’s debate on the Senate floor “is smoking not good for your health? Maybe it isn’t but it’s better than dying.”

The bill also adds 10 more medical marijuana treatment centers by July 1, 2018, but the Senate wants to limit the number of retail dispensaries they can open to five. The House doesn’t have any caps.

Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care, says his organization supports the bill and lauded both chambers for making a lot of progress during session.

“It is a fair and reasonable compromise,” he said. “A lot of stuff in there I don’t like but that is stuff that can wait to get fixed until next year’s session. We have to get something done. The clock is ticking.”

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