On Thursday, Florida senators voted 34-4 to remove the statewide ban on smoking medical marijuana. SB 182 will make it legal for patients to receive up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every 35 days, creates a $1.5 million Medical Marijuana Research and Education Board, and authorizes smoking in certain nursing homes and hospice facilities.
State Senator Jeff Brandes sponsored the bill, saying upon its passage, “We’ve been working around the clock with our colleagues in the House, with the Governor’s Office to come up with a consensus product and I think we’ve done that.”
“Being a physician is both an art and a science,” Brandes told his peers on the Senate floor. “There is a latitude we give physicians to try a new drug and try experimentation. That’s how we build on this body of research.”
The bill must now pass the House before it hits the Governor’s desk, where it is all but guaranteed to be approved. Action on the issue was spurred in part by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who told the state legislature in January that the 2017 smoking ban “has not been done in accordance with what the amendment envisioned.” DeSantis held that when 71 percent of Florida voters approved medical marijuana in 2016 via Amendment 2, they were not voting for a smoke-less version of access.
DeSantis gave lawmakers until March 15 to legislate on the matter. A similar bill proposed by the House committee for health and human services has not been heard on the floor, but was reported out of the Appropriations committee in February.
The SB 182 decision comes at a time when many of the state’s strict restrictions on access and use of marijuana are being called into question. In February, a circuit judge voiced opposition to a 2017 law that limited the number of dispensaries that could be in an area, writing that the cap “erects barriers that needlessly increase patients’ costs, risks, and inconvenience, delay access to products, and reduce patients’ practical choice, information, privacy, and safety.”
The Senate Bill passed this week makes it a requirement that non-terminal child patients seek a second physician’s opinion before getting medical marijuana, and allows medical cannabis treatment centers to sell smoking paraphernalia. It bans smoking in public and drug-free workplaces.
Even the sponsor of the original ban on smokable cannabis, State Senator Rob Bradley, recognized that the moment had changed when it comes to marijuana. “We did what we thought was right for the health of the people of the state of Florida,” the state senator told The Hill. “It’s time to move this discussion from Tallahassee to doctors’ offices around the state.”
Lawmakers announced a few weeks ago that they were working in earnest on two slightly different proposals in the Senate and House of Representatives, spurred by a 2018 ruling by a Leon County Circuit Judge that pronounced the ban on smokeable marijuana unconstitutional. That ruling was appealed by the state’s previous Governor Rick Scott, whose successor came to the office with entirely different ideas about the way Floridians should be able to access the drug.