Medical Marijuana bill clears Florida Senate hurdle

Legislation to implement the medical marijuana amendment approved by Florida voters cleared a major Senate committee hurdle Tuesday, with patients’ rights advocates saluting the measure as preferential to a more restrictive bill in the House.

  • Florida Senate panel passes medical marijuana bill
  • Allows for three new dispensary licenses
  • Less restrictive than the FL House bill
  • CAPITOL CONNECTION: Latest News | Contact your Florida legislators

The bill, SB 406, had allowed for five new medical marijuana nursery licenses to be issued. By the time the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee passed it Tuesday evening, however, it had been amended to provide for just three new licenses.

Conservatives on the panel warned that more licenses could hurt the state’s ability to carefully scrutinize the way medical marijuana is grown and dispensed. While the bill’s Republican sponsor disagreed with that notion, he reluctantly accepted the changes as a necessary compromise.

“We have before us a bill that we can all be proud of,” said Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), adding that it was paramount to “faithfully implement the intent of and the will of the 71 percent of Floridians who voted in favor of Amendment 2.”

The House’s legislation would keep a lid on nursery licenses and, critically, would ban the smoking, vaping or eating of medical marijuana, all of which are allowed under the Senate’s plan. House Republican leaders say the restrictions are necessary to prevent Florida’s medical marijuana industry from snowballing into a quasi-recreational marijuana scheme.

After the lower chamber’s bill passed its last committee Tuesday morning, the pro-medical marijuana group Florida for Care sent an email to supporters calling the legislation “terrible.” Given the differences between the House and Senate bills, significant cross-rotunda compromises could be necessary, which some medical marijuana advocates said could result in an Amendment 2 implementation plan so restrictive a court fight could follow.

“Our politics in Florida, here, are being watched by the rest of the country, and we can do it right the first time and not have to worry about lawsuits and so on, so we hope that it doesn’t go there,” said Erik Range of Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana.

The bill has one more committee hearing before heading to the Senate floor for a vote.

Lawmakers look to add diversity to medical marijuana

SB 406 asks that a diversity plan be written into medical marijuana laws. It would be something similar to Florida’s Minority Business Enterprise program, but for the medical marijuana industry.

Senators were very interested in learning and including diversity plans for the medical marijuana expansion, but felt the language in the legislation needed work. 

“Just the fact that we are having the conversation, just the fact that we are acknowledging, currently, the only state in the country that has a diversity goal outline in their law is the state of Pennsylvania,” said Roz McCarthy, Minorities For Medical Marijuana.

McCarthy wants Florida in that same boat, by pushing for companies licensed to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana be required to have diversity plans. 

“It will say basically that these license holders would have to produce a diversity plan or basically show how they are going to bring in other small businesses to come in and participate in the free market,” said McCarthy.

Minority businesses are those that are owned by women, minorities, veterans and the disabled. McCarthy believes there is a lot of job opportunity in the medical marijuana industry for people.

“They are going to building the greenhouses, they are going to do the lighting, they are going to track the plant, they are going to transport, there are so many different services there and there are so many small businesses who want to be a part of it,” said McCarthy. “My favorite quote is, ‘It’s a process to progress.’ It takes time.” 

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