One of the most intriguing aspects of medical marijuana legalization is the way each different state has imposed restrictions on certain forms of cannabis. In well-established markets like Colorado and Washington, the range of medical marijuana products available matches or outstrips the recreational pool, and the availability of flower is a given. In some other states, however, smoking medical marijuana has been illegal from the get-go. Now that Florida is on its way to legalizing flower for smoking, many people are asking why it was illegal in the first place.
A Matter of Appearances
So, what would drive a state to legalize medical marijuana but ban the cheapest, most readily available form of it for their consumers? Stigma against cannabis is a deeply-rooted attitude that persists even in the face of massive progress, and it's the main reason Florida officials chose to outlaw flower and the smoking of medical marijuana.
The "stoner" stereotype is never complete without an image of said smoker hotboxing their current surroundings, and potentially coughing up a storm. No doubt, then-Governor Rick Scott was envisioning this sort of scenario when his administration decided to ban this consumption method. Although more than 70 percent of voters approved Amendment 2 in November 2016 to legalize marijuana, lawmakers then chose to impose strictures allowing only non-combustible forms of cannabis. Oils, edibles, sprays, tinctures, and even vaping are still allowed since they don't cater to the pop culture image of cannabis and can pass as more "legitimate" forms of medical products.
A Slippery Slope
The "slippery slope" is used constantly as an argument against cannabis of all stripes. Although the number of anti-cannabis advocates crowing about marijuana as a gateway drug have lessened in the past few years, many people still believe that smoking weed opens up the door to a life of harder drugs and general debauchery.
From a defensive standpoint, it may have been easier for lawmakers to simply remove smoking medical marijuana as a point of contention in the tired slippery slope argument. If they were really concerned with the potency of smoked cannabis leading to use of harder drugs, concentrates and vape cartridges would have been off the table from the get-go.
Once you realize that vaping retains much more of its THC than a smoked joint, it becomes obvious that potency is not the problem.
Amid the less legitimate concerns presented, a concern for health of the medical consumers stands out as a genuine worry when it comes to smoking medical marijuana. There's really no way to avoid the fact that smoking is bad for you, even if weed is helping you out with other issues. For people battling intense conditions, the tradeoff feels worth it to many consumers.
For lawmakers, the possibility of someone taking up smoking when they didn't before may have seemed unconscionable from a public health standpoint.
The Battle for Buds
An attorney from Florida, John Morgan, ended up suing the state over the provision that banned smoking medical marijuana. According to the lawsuit, the ban is unconstitutional. It claims that the ban redefines the term "medical use" in a way that excludes smoking and therefore infringes on the rights of medical consumers to obtain treatment recommended by their doctors.
It took a year for a ruling on the lawsuit, in which Judge Karen Gievers sided with Morgan in May. Lawmakers were quick to fire back, as the Florida Department of Health filed a federal appeal the very same day. It was clear they had been drafting this appeal for some time, and were ready to file it the second the ruling came out.
The appeal stated that Judge Gievers' ruling violated the Florida Legislature's intent and called the verdict a public health risk. The appeal effectively negated the verdict by preventing it from moving forward until the complete settlement of the lawsuit. For all intents and purposes, it appeared that the lawsuit was dead in the water.
Progress on Pot Law
Luckily for medical consumers in Florida, a change in the guard helped get things moving again. In January, 2019, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made it clear that he supports a medical cardholder’s ability to consume their medicine as recommended by their physician – a view which supports smoking medical marijuana in private spaces.
Others in the legislature don't share DeSantis' progressive view, however. House Speaker Jose Oliva is a prime example of the strange logic advocates will have to get around if they plan to lift the ban on smoking medical marijuana. Oliva asks: "Is one to believe that an 8-year-old child should be smoking marijuana, inhaling smoke into their lungs. I’ve been in the smoke business my entire life and I’ve never heard anyone say it's good for you."
The tactic of taking a concept and extending it to theoretical extremes is not a new one, but it is a lazy one. Anyone with a basic understanding of medical marijuana knows no one is proposing that children should be able to smoke cannabis, because a legitimate doctor would never recommend such a thing. The entire struggle revolves around a medical consumer’s right to do what their physician recommends, not the right to do whatever they want. The legislature would do well to remember this as they move forward on medical marijuana law.
The bill that would allow smokable cannabis, SB182, passed its first committee in February, passed the Senate in early March 2019, and passed the House in a landslide vote a few days later. The bill was then signed by the governor in late March. The Department of Health needs to draft rules and guidelines before it’s available.