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Jeff Brandes files medical marijuana implementing bill

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Sen. Jeff Brandes wants a total overhaul of the state’s medical marijuana laws, filing legislation to repeal current law dealing with low-THC cannabis and replace it with a new regulatory system.

The St. Petersburg Republican filed the legislation (SB 614) Wednesday. A long-time critic of the current medical marijuana system, Brandes’ bill has the potential to open up the market beyond the seven dispensing organizations under law.

“The overwhelming support of Amendment 2 was a strong mandate that Floridians demand fundamental change to the way we regulate medical marijuana,” said Brandes in a statement. “The laws on the books today promote a state-sanctioned cartel system that limits competition, inhibits access, and results in higher prices for patients. This legislation outright repeals Florida’s defective law.”

Under the proposal, vertical integration of medical marijuana treatment centers is not required. Instead, the bill creates four different function licenses — cultivation, processing, transportation, and retail — that a medical marijuana treatment center can obtain. The bill allows treatment centers to get any combination of licenses. That’s a departure from current law, which requires dispensing organizations, similar to a medical marijuana treatment center, to grow, process and sell their own product.

“Florida should focus on what is best for patients,” he said. “The state today artificially limits the number of marijuana providers, promoting regional monopolies and standing in the way of the physician-patient relationship. This legislation removes those barriers, and will provide expanded access to Floridians who could benefit from the use of these products.”

The cultivation license would allow a license holder to grow and harvest marijuana; while a processing license would allow the permit holder to convert marijuana into a medical marijuana product, like oils, creams and food products, for qualifying patients.

Medical marijuana treatment centers with a transportation license would be allowed to deliver products to other treatment centers. It also allows centers to deliver the product directly to qualified patients, which the proposal states may not be restricted by local jurisdictions.

The proposal restricts retail facilities to 1 license per 25,000 residents. It allows local governments to regulate zoning and safety standards, and allows local governments to prohibit stores from opening up in their community. More than 50 cities across the state already have a zoning moratorium in place banning or restricting dispensaries.

Beyond getting rid of vertical integration, Brandes’ bill opens the door for future growth by removing current requirements, like how long a company needs to be in business or how much of the product they can grow.

“Senator Brandes’ implementing bill does an excellent job of establishing a comprehensive, tightly regulated medical marijuana system in Florida. SB 614 respects both the language of the constitution and the mandate that voters delivered on this issue,” said Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for the United for Care campaign, which backed the medical marijuana constitutional amendment. “The two most essential pieces of implementation are maintaining the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship, and expanding the marketplace to serve patient access. SB 614 does both in a well regulated, well thought out manner.”

Brandes is the second Senate Republican in recent weeks to file a bill focused on implementing Amendment 2, the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.Last month, Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill that would, among other things, allow for the growth of medical marijuana treatment centers once the number of registered patients hits a certain number.

Under his proposal, the Department of Health is required register five more medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry. It then allows for more five more treatment centers to receive licenses after the 350,000 qualified patients, 400,000 qualified patients, 500,000 qualified patients, and after each additional 100,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

The Department of Health also initiated the process of creating rules and regulations governing Amendment 2 in January. The department has until July to put rules in place to implement Amendment 2, which passed with overwhelming support in November.

Under preliminary rules, medical marijuana treatment centers — which under new rules would be the same as a dispensing organization, must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

A spokeswoman for the health department said in an email last month that agency looks forward to “receiving input from all interested stakeholders through the open and transparent rulemaking process.”

Brandes’ bill also:

— Adds paraplegia, quadriplegia, and terminal conditions to the list of debilitating medical conditions as adopted as part of Amendment 2;

— Establishes criteria for caregivers and requires the background screening of caregivers;

— Restricts patients and caregivers from cultivating their own marijuana, and requires patients obtain marijuana from registered medical marijuana treatment centers;

— Grandfathers in existing dispensing organizations; and

— Applies a sales tax to the sales of marijuana and medical marijuana products.

If Brandes’ proposal makes headway in the Senate, that sales tax issue could run into some trouble in the House. While a House bill hasn’t been filed yet, Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who is expected to carry the bill, has said the House version won’t include a tax on medical marijuana products.

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