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Florida Lawmakers Advance Legislation to Lift Ban on Smokable Marijuana

There are two separate proposals, but both have the same outcome: smokable cannabis for medical marijuana patients.

A.J. Herrington

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Two proposals that would remove the ban on smokable cannabis from the state’s medical marijuana program advanced in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday. The Senate measure would permit sales of cannabis flower, while the House plan would only allow sales of pre-rolled joints with filters.

The ban on smokable cannabis was enacted by legislators after voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in 2016. The ban was challenged with a lawsuit from cannabis activists and ruled unconstitutional, a decision that was appealed by the administration of then Gov. Rick Scott. Lawmakers were spurred to repeal the prohibition after Gov. Ron DeSantis, who took office last month, said he would drop the appeal if the legislature did not act on the issue by March 15. Rep. Ray Rodrigues, the chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said on Tuesday that the appeal should not be abandoned.

“If that [court] decision were to stand, what we would be facing essentially would be the wild, wild west when it comes to using medical marijuana,” Rodrigues said. “We believe there should be guardrails around that. That’s why we’ve reconvened and put this bill together moving forward.”

The House plan to remove the ban originally included a requirement that doctors obtain the approval of a case review panel before issuing a recommendation for smokable marijuana. Under an amendment from Rodrigues, the case review requirement was removed, although doctors will instead be required to forward information about recommendations for smokable marijuana to the state Board of Medicine or the Board of Osteopathic Medicine.

The amendment also requires that only pre-rolled joints with filters be allowed to address concerns about the negative effects of smoking. Patients younger than age 18 would still not be permitted to smoke. The amendment from Rodrigues was approved by the committee on a voice vote and the measure was advanced with a vote of 14-2.

Separate Measure in Florida Senate

In the Senate, a bill to end the ban from Sen. Jeff Brandes was approved by the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee after the panel stripped an earlier amendment that would have required patients to get a second doctor’s opinion for medical marijuana recommendations. Instead, only recommendations for children would require a second opinion from a pediatrician. Brandes’ proposal also includes provisions to permit residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospice facilities to smoke medical marijuana if the facilities allow it.

If the separate House and Senate measures are both approved, legislators from the two bodies will have to come together to reconcile the differences in the bills. After the Senate committee meeting on Tuesday, Brandes said he believed that lawmakers were up to the task.

“We’ll ultimately find a place to land this,” Brandes said. “I think the March 15 deadline no longer seems out of reach.”

Rodrigues said that he believed once a plan to remove the ban on smokable marijuana is reached by the legislature, state regulators will quickly enact the new regulations.

“Given how important this is to the governor, I cannot imagine that this will be delayed significantly from the Department of Health,” he said.

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