In November, 71% of Florida residents voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that approved the use of medical marijuana. Though the state had previously approved a medical marijuana law, state legislators have attempted to greatly limit who can access cannabis and what products may be produced in the state.
Under the previous medical marijuana law, seven companies held a monopoly for growing and marijuana production within the state, which led to extremely high prices. The amendment itself has limited instructions on how the medical marijuana system should be implemented, so it required the state legislature to draft bills in order to outline the regulations that would apply to cannabis in the state. Six bills have been currently put forth in the legislature that range from strict to relaxed regulation.
Many people are concerned, however, about high prices, unnecessary hurdles for patients to access medication, and fewer options in choices of medical cannabis products. The new medical industry, which is suppose to be up and running by September, was originally implemented in January. The amendment allowed for nine months for the rules to be decided on and established and to register new growers and patients before formally beginning.
The Florida legislature conducted a large amount of debates and bill revisions to reflect what they believe should be apart of the new medical infrastructure. Though many people in the legislature argue that they are limiting access to medical marijuana in an attempt to prevent issues similar to the opioid epidemic, they are actually making the situation potentially worse by limiting access to a medication that could reduce the amount of necessary opioids for people in the state.
Lawmakers are also worried about the wrong people getting their hands on cannabis and have proposed a long list of roadblocks that could get in peoples way of accessing a viable medication. The possible restrictions include requiring a 90-day relationship with a doctor before they could recommend cannabis and not allowing administration methods like vaporizing and edibles.
Different proposals also run the gambit on the amount of growers and distributers who could be issued licenses, ranging from twelve, which would only be five more than the current number allowed, to twenty. Even if the highest proposed number was approved, there are still concerns about monopolies in such a large state with a potentially very large market.
Much of the proposed legislation that puts very strict restrictions on medical marijuana availability comes from the lobbying arm of Drug Free America. Drug Free America, which is based in St. Petersburg, spent $1 million in the attempt to trounce the proposed amendment and, after their own defeat, they have now turned their efforts to restricting what is allowed under the amendment. Many of the strict proposals also come from problems with misinformation about cannabis and what it can do to help many people. Cannabis has an incredible ability to help people with a variety of medical conditions and greatly improve their quality of life.
After a tumultuous period of debate, however, there may be hope for patients in Florida desiring to access medical marijuana. The legislative session for Florida ends on this coming Friday and last Friday House Bill 1397, which is about regulating the cannabis industry, was modified to be less strict. On the current bill there will be no 90-day doctor requirement or a ban of vaporizers and edibles.
The changes to the bill, which also eased requirements on recertification from every three months to once a year, were made after the legislature heard patient testimony. Though there is still a continued division on how medical marijuana producers are to become certified dispensing organizations, the changes that have been made to the bill show great promise and finally, a response based on the needs of patients. The legislature could vote on the bill as early as Tuesday and, if passed, the bill could greatly improve the quality of life of many people.