Following last-minute changes, the lower house of Florida’s legislature voted 105-9 on Tuesday to pass HB 1397, ostensibly following through on the voter mandate to establish a medical marijuana program in the Sunshine State.
But those last-minute changes included both a limit on the number of license holders—and a ban on actually smoking herbaceous cannabis.
House sponsor and Republican leader Ray Rodrigues blamed fears of interference from the Trump administration, telling the Tampa Bay Times: “We have to make it legal and available to Florida residents, but we have to do it in such a way that it complies to the guidance we’ve been given by the federal government.”
The Miami New Times was less forgiving in its coverage, writing: “Florida’s House of Representatives proved today there is nothing its grubby little hands can’t screw up.”
The newspaper noted that last November, Amendment 2 was approved by 72 percent of Florida’s voters, mandating legalization of medicinal cannabis for those suffering from “debilitating diseases,” including cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer’s. HB 1397 does not meet that mandate, according to Ben Pollara, policy director of United for Care, the group that pushed for the passage of Amendment 2.
While acknowledging that earlier versions of the bill were even worse, he said: “[T]his is still a fatally flawed piece of legislation.”
The original text of HB 1397 banned all forms of smokable, edible and vape-able cannabis—leading Pollara to ask in exasperation, “Well, how can you ingest it?”
After an outcry of protest from patient advocacy groups, lawmakers amended the bill to at least allow edibles and vaporizers for qualifying patients. But the perverse irony remains: this bill actually tightens rather than loosens Florida law.
Under Florida’s existing “CBD-specific” medical marijuana law, smoking low-THC strains is permissible. If HB 1397 passes, it no longer will be.
The bill now heads to Florida’s state Senate—where it will hopefully be either revised to make it an actual medical marijuana law, or killed, allowing lawmakers to start over from scratch.