Marijuana reform proved to be wildly popular in Florida, where six million people—71 percent of voters—approved an initiative allowing for increased access to medical cannabis. Currently, Florida residents can get their hands on low or no-THC oil for epilepsy—and if someone is terminally ill, they’re allowed “full-strength” marijuana.
That’s all supposed to change starting sometime after Jan. 3, when the state is supposed to start setting up a medical-marijuana industry. Emphasis on “supposed to,” because as the Tampa Bay Times points out, Florida state lawmakers have many other things they’d rather do. Getting rules for cannabis together is simply “not a top priority” for any of the state’s three most-powerful elected officials, the according to the newspaper.
Not that that should be shocking. Neither Gov. Rick Scott nor Senate President Rick Scott said anything one way or the other about Amendment 2, which received more support on Election Day than any other marijuana-related ballot measure in the country. As for Richard Corcoran, the speaker of Florida’s lower house, he outright opposed it.
These are the same lawmakers who voted down a sizable expansion of the state’s existing medical-marijuana program last year. State Sen. Jeff Brandes’s bill didn’t even make it out of committee, a snub which necessitated the voter initiative.
Judging by voter turnout alone, you could make the argument that a reasonable and workable cultivation and distribution system for medical marijuana is something that Floridians care about. The state is famous for its aging population, and cannabis has proven potential as a palliative for all kinds of age-related maladies, from chronic pain to Alzheimer’s.
There’s still time and no deadlines have come and gone yet, as new laws can’t be introduced until March 7, when the legislative session opens, and state health officials aren’t planning on starting to create regulations until Jan. 3, when Amendment 2 takes effect.
Sill, when newly-elected state lawmakers convened for a ceremonial opening session last month, marijuana wasn’t mentioned until reporters started asking questions about it, the newspaper reported—which is never a good sign.
As for what the Legislature plans to do? “All I’d say on that is that we’re going to honor the will of the voters, we’re going to protect the Constitution, and we’re going to protect the people’s state of Florida,” said Corcoran, demonstrating a mastery of the art of saying absolutely nothing.
Already, some battle lines are forming—as are some potential conflicts. For example, Corcoran is an avowed supporter of “free-market public policy, particularly in health care,” the newspaper reported. You’d think that would make him a natural ally for a competition-rich marijuana industry with wide and varied access for patients. Or, not: Florida’s cannabis industry will be nothing if not “tightly-regulated,” according to the Times.
There’s also been a demonstrated reluctance on behalf of state health officials to start moving proactively on implementing Amendment 2, which greatly expands the list of health conditions for which cannabis can be recommended. As the Times points out, there’s an advisory on the health department’s website that says the expanded list of conditions goes into effect on Jan. 3. But at the same time, health department officials are saying that the state’s doctors, cultivators, and dispensaries will be bound by “existing law”—which offers low- or no-THC cannabis oil to children with epilepsy and restricts “full-strength marijuana” only to the terminally ill.
All this smells like a court battle waiting to happen, something Florida for Care, the group that sponsored Amendment 2, swears it wants to avoid. “We want to be reasonable,” Florida for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara told the newspaper, with “reasonable” being a marijuana program that offers the drug to sick people who aren’t on their deathbeds, and also allows a wide range of cultivators the ability to grow the state’s marijuana supply.
But if there’s no help from the state house, Florida marijuana-seekers are in for a tough time. Already, local governments around the state are busy passing moratoriums on allowing dispensaries in their communities, and prior to Amendment 2, lawmakers also shot down efforts to expand the roster of approved cultivators. Unless there’s a major attitude shift, we’ll all be old by the time Floridians get to enjoy what they just approved at the ballot.