Florida Medical Marijuana Lawmaking Progress (2017)

According to the Florida Constitution, amendments go into effect the first Tuesday after the first Monday of January. Confused? In 2017, that means January 3rd is the day when the voting voices of over 6.5 million would be enacted into law.

That’s right, I’m talking about the day that the Sunshine State codified medical marijuana — and not just on low-THC, high-CBD products — into the state law.

Previous to Amendment 2, Florida had only permitted those with terminal illness access to full potency (or high-THC) cannabis products, while low-THC, high-CBD products could be accessed by those with cancer, epilepsy, chronic muscle spasms, and chronic seizures. While the initiative text sought to expand the category of who has access to the full potency cannabis, it also gave expressed authority to the Department of Health in the regulatory, rule creation and administration for the state medical industry. They have until July 3rd, 2017 to promulgate the rules for oversight, ensuring safety and minimizing public risk.

The Fight for Amendment Two

The State legislature has been busy creating the necessary regulatory framework for processing applications (for patients, caregivers, and business owners) as well as the rules of enforcement, possession limits, physician requirements, and the penalties if an individual or company falls out of line with state law. A few weeks after the ballot measure was officially enacted, the State Senate released the first of two Senate Bills that aim to address the budding medical industry. To give you an idea how much they had expanded, the original ballot measure was only two pages in length — this one is 36 pages. On the first of February, a competing measure was filled in the Senate, this one reading 62 pages in length.

Each bill attempts to address perceived health and safety risks, as well as future growth, doctor responsibility, patient access, and the penalties associated with breaking the law.

Senate Bill 406

Filed in the Senate on January 19th, 2017, SB 406 aims to clarify the roles of patients and doctors in prescribing or receiving cannabis products. On the first of February, 2017, SB 406 was referred to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. It has not been signed into law. Here is some of the proposed changes under SB 406:

  • Patients get access to up to 90 days supply, up from 45 day supply
  • Licensed cultivation and distribution centers are to be licensed incrementally as demand increases
  • Includes the expanded list of conditions that are eligible for medical marijuana and not just low-THC preparations

Additionally, doctor-patient relationships would no longer be mediated by the state. The doctor would have the authority to judge whether someone qualifies for medical marijuana or low-THC cannabis rather than the Florida Board of Medicine being the determinant factor. As the state currently has only seven licensed and operational retail shops, or Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTC), SB 406 dictates the following structure for expansion:

  • At 250,000 patients within the state registry, an additional five MMTCs must be opened within six months
  • At 350,000 patients, an additional five MMTC must become available within six months
  • At 400,000 patients, another increase of five MMTC is to occur
  • At 500,000, the trend repeats

Every 100,000 patients after 500,000 additionally prompts five additional MMTCs within six months.

Senate Bill 614

Reading over 60 pages in length, the proposed bill would continue to limit access to full potency cannabis products, ultimately moving inches away from the low-THC model rather than the mile that Amendment Two had promised. Unlike SB 406, doctors are required to submit a prescription to the state for processing. This places the physician at risk, forcing them to order the patient medicine in a specific quantity, which puts them at risk of violating Federal law for writing an illegal prescription. In contrast, Colorado doctors recommend patients a limit, but it is up to the dispensary to uphold purchase limits, removing the doctor from such liability.

SB 614 asks that the state removes the requirement for vertical integration, allowing businesses to specialize in cultivation, manufacturing, or patient care centers rather than requiring each facility to manage each operation internally. This would create four new license categories and, ultimately, allow one license per 25,000 people in a county. SB 614 elucidates advertising prohibitions, packaging requirements, and even the shapes & titles of the cannabis products themselves. The hope is, by allowing more MMTC, with specialization, that the artificially high prices on cannabis products will begin to lower, which could help adherence to the legal medical marijuana marketplace.

Patients, Legislators Clash

Our legislative look into Florida’s medical marijuana next takes us to the beginning of February. On February 6th and ending the 11th, Florida began hosting public meetings to discuss the proposed rules. Cars lined up, rooms were packed, and the ensuing public outcry over the proposed rules spanned the state, tip to tail. Doctors, patients, and the voting public all came to make their case. Here is a brief summary of some of the complaints and suggestions the people had:

  • Make licensing for cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sales more available
  • No longer require vertical integration, allow for specialization
  • Patients shouldn’t have to wait three months to receive cannabis as a recommended treatment, especially with patients that are terminal
  • Doctor-patient relationship should preempt the Board of Medicine in determining patient treatment
  • No packaging or products that appeal to youth populations
  • Work faster

Many of those who attended the public meetings were forced to stand in overflow rooms or in lines not even contained within the building. There was passion and frustration — the two emotional undercurrents that will likely continue through the implementation of Amendment Two. As the Senate is in session until May, the next few months are sure to shed some light on medical marijuana laws in Sunshine state.

Be sure to check back in next nearly weekend for another edition of the Friday Legislative Look-in!