TALLAHASSEE – The highly anticipated answer to the looming question of whether medical marijuana would be included in this week's legislative special session came Wednesday afternoon from State Senator Rob Bradley.
Bradley, R-Fleming Island, stated his intentions to file a bill this week that will honor the will of 72 percent of Florida voters by properly implementing Amendment 2.
“Our constitutional duty is to ensure the availability and safe use of medical marijuana in the manner prescribed by Florida voters,” Bradley said in statement on Wednesday. “This patient-first legislation will expand access to this medicine, while ensuring safety through a unified regulatory structure for each component of the process from cultivation to consumption.”
The closest version of a medical marijuana bill that would have implemented Article X, section 29 of the Florida Constitution, fell victim to the clock last month and died on the House floor in the final hours of the regular session.
A litany of amendments, including Bradley’s overhaul, passed before House Bill 1397 before it eventually died. Who exactly was to blame for the demise of the legislation depended on which house of the Florida Legislature you were standing in and who you were talking to.
State Representative and Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, said he believed the final version of House Bill 1397, which he initially sponsored, was sufficient. After all amendments were filed, the bill was passed in the House on a 99-16 vote.
“What we passed was a very good bill,” Rodrigues said. “We had patient access first and foremost and it would have been a good implementing bill.”
Where exactly the legislation went sideways boiled down to regulatory caps that would have been placed on medical marijuana treatment centers. The Senate's version of the bill placed a cap of five “dispensing facilities” a single MMTC could establish and operate.
The final House version of the bill, which was sponsored by Rodrigues, included an initial cap of 50 dispensing facilities effective until 2019. Before the House vote, Rodrigues submitted another amendment, increasing the cap to 100 facilities.
Rodrigues was questioned after the regular session how and when the issue of capping the number of dispensaries an MMTC could operate became such a problem.
“It emerged very late in the session,” Rodrigues said. “You’d have to ask the Senate since they are the ones who insisted on it.”
The House version of the bill also included rules that would have made the acquisition or transference of an MMTC license a lot less restrictive. It was estimated recently, after a Canadian company attempted to purchase a controlling stake in the Alachua County medical marijuana treatment center CHT Medical, that a state license could be worth as much as $200 million.
Originally introduced by Senator Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and later adopted by both Bradley and Rodrigues, a portion of the failed bill included appropriations for a marijuana research center that would have been established at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Fla. This is something Bradley hinted at including in the legislation he plans to file during the special session.
“The bill will be consistent with the Senate goal of increasing the overall number of MMTCs that provide medicine to patients,” Bradley said. “Additionally, this bill will enhance research opportunities that will allow scientists and physicians to study and improve this medicine, while gaining a better understanding of its effects.”
House Bill 5A and Senate Bill 8A, both titled "Medical Use of Marijuana," were filed shortly after Bradley released the statement earlier today. There has been little action seen thus far on the House bill filed by Rodrigues.
The Senate bill, however, has several amendments filed to it already and has since been referred to the Appropriations subcommittee, where the legislation will be reviewed and voted on Thursday morning if it is received.
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