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Florida’s medical marijuana program: What’s next?

Florida’s medical marijuana bill is in limbo. It failed to pass on the state’s last legislative session, May 5.

Since it failed to pass, new rules are slated to be issued by Friday, May 13 by the Florida Department of Health. Florida senate president, Senator Joe Negron, has also indicated that he would not be opposed to putting medical marijuana on the agenda for a special legislative session.

Florida’s medical marijuana bill provides an exemption from the state tax on sales, use, and other transactions for marijuana and marijuana delivery devices used for medical purposes, and requires the Department of Health to issue licenses to a certain number of medical marijuana treatment centers, among other things.

Failure hinged on the issue of the number of retail locations a licensed medical marijuana establishment could open. On the last day of the session, the House amended its proposal to impose a cap of 100 retail outlets for each of the state’s medical marijuana operators – the Senate proposed a cap of 10. The chambers couldn’t agree.

Now it falls to the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use to use its regulations to implement Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana last year and was enacted on Jan. 3. It must be implemented by October, with rules in place by July.

The bill has had a flurry of amendments since mid-April as legislators picked through it and tried to focus the rules – a total of 60 amendments, with 22 coming in just the last three days of the session, May 3 through May 5.

The Department of Health submitted their first draft of rules in February, which created public criticism about the restrictions for patient conditions.

“The next step is the issuance of a second draft, with a subsequent challenge period,” Jesse Kelley, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, says. “And then after that they will issue their proposed final rules that will then be followed by a challenge period. After that, they will issue their final adopted version,” she says. “The second draft will happen very quickly, probably by Friday (May 13). If they listened to people who spoke at their public hearings, hopefully this new draft will be less restrictive. But there’s no way of knowing.”

Michael Bronstein, a political consultant who was on the policy committee for Florida for Care, an advocacy organization that wrote Amendment 2, said that they are still trying to assess the situation. “It’s been hard to get things through on the legislative side,” Bronstein says. “And the legislature really did wait until the last minute to address this issue. So there’s been a lot of back and forth between chambers and that is something that we are still actively trying to find out about.”

In a letter to CBE Press, Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care, wrote that he is “truly sorry” to all patients that would have had some kind of reasonable access if the bill had passed. “However the choices we faced were “bad”, “worse”, and “the worst” which is what happened,” he wrote. “Florida for Care will continue to fight.”

David HodesDavid Hodes

David Hodes

David Hodes is based in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. He is the former editor of seven different business magazines, and has contributed feature articles to several business/lifestyle publications and national cannabis magazines. Hodes is also a former field producer for CBS News, NBC, NFL Network, ESPN and other media outlets; worked as a news promotions producer for two network affiliates; and was the morning news editor for a third network affiliate.

He is member of the National Press Club, and deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.

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