2014 In Review – Marijuana becomes part of the health care debate in Florida

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Medicinal marijuana advocates posted a substantial victory in 2014 and did well enough in a losing effort to begin plotting a second ballot initiative to end the state’s prohibition on cannabis.

Florida became the first southeastern state to allow doctors to use a cannabis product in a patient’s treatment plan when the Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 1030 in June.

A much broader proposal, a citizen-led initiative authorizing the medicinal use of the plant itself, failed to get the 60-percent voter approval needed for passage. Amendment 2 received 57 percent of the vote, a higher percentage than any candidate and enough to encourage 75 supporters a month after the election to attend a two-day strategy meeting for a second ballot initiative.

“It’s no secret that if they (legislators), coupled with the stakeholders and advocates, cannot find consensus this coming session, a measure will be back on the ballot in 2016,” said Taylor Patrick Biehl of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida.

“Watch for a new petition roll-out and signature gathering beginning in January,” continued Taylor. He spoke after a two-day strategy session in Miami, organized by Florida for Care. The meeting, attended by lawyers, advocates and consultants included legislative updates and review of the Amendment 2 campaign.

Marijuana is expected to be on lawmakers’ agenda when they convene the 2015 legislative session in March. The Department of Health missed a Jan. 1, 2015, deadline to have a regulatory framework in place to grow marijuana and process and dispense oil from the plant when growers challenged its first set of rules.

The Department has been all but silent about how it intends to regulate the industry other than to schedule a rules development workshop in Orlando for Tuesday.

“The Department of Health will consider all options that will most expeditiously get this product to market to help families facing serious illnesses.” That has been DOH communications director Nathan Dunn’s only official comment since a judge invalidated DOH’s proposed rule Nov. 14.

“I’m going to be watching very closely to make sure that they move forward as quickly as is reasonably possible with the new rule,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, SB 1030 sponsor. “And if legislative intervention speeds it up, then there will be legislative intervention.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner said he expects Bradley and state Sen. Aaron Bean, chair of the Health Policy Committee, to have robust discussions about getting Charlotte’s Web oil to market.