After months of criticism over House Bill 1397, it appears that there may finally be some sort of compromise between the House and Senate versions in the works. A revised version of the House Bill is expected to be voted on at the House floor on Tuesday, where it would then be sent over to the Senate for consideration. The new version of the bill makes a few changes that were stressed by both activists and patients and includes allowing for vaping and edibles, removing the 90 day doctor-patient relationship requirement, and reducing the number of hours of required training a physician needs to be able to recommend medical marijuana.
While these changes do make a big improvement over the original “Mel Sembler Medical Marijuana Act” it still isn’t quite what those who wrote the amendment had in mind. The bill still bans smoking – although both the House and Senate versions do and most lawmakers feel this is reasonable and even somewhat expected of a medical marijuana law. But not everyone agrees, and Ben Pollara, Executive Director of Florida for Care and previous campaign manager for United for Care and Yes on 2 believes the state will have a number of lawsuits on their hands if they don’t decide to allow smoking.
Unfortunately, one big thing that they haven’t remotely changed in the bill is how growers, processors and distributors are set up. Currently there are seven nurseries licensed throughout the state, and each one has the right to grow, process and sell medical marijuana products – effectively putting a monopoly on the market. While the Senate version would require 5 additional licenses by October and four more for every 75,000 patients, the House version doesn’t allow for more than one additional license until after the state reaches 150,000 registered patients. Before then the only additional license (which would be required under both bills) is one nursery that is a part of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association.
“It’s certainly an improvement over its previous iterations but is still extraordinarily flawed,” said Florida For Care executive director Ben Pollara. “Vaping and edibles should have been allowed to begin with, and the 90 day wait eliminated at the outset, but I’m nonetheless happy to see those things happen in the amended bill. But the physician certification language is still fatally flawed and HB 1397 firmly maintains the cartel system that ultimately harms patient access.”
Neither the House nor the Senate bill is exactly what those who wrote Amendment 2 had in mind – however it is likely what we’re going to end up with by the end of this session. On the bright side, at least the House is willing to loosen up on edibles and vaping, assuming there is proper packaging requirements that would prevent such things from ending up in the hands of kids. However, the continued creation of what is being called a “legal cartel” when it comes to the cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana is going to be a problem, alongside the ban on smoking cannabis.