Florida is poised to take a significant step in making medicinal cannabis available to people who need it. This week, decisions by lawmakers at the Florida Capitol and an administrative court judge could determine when and how.
Frustrated by legal challenges preventing implementation of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, lawmakers are pursuing a legislative fix allowing doctors to treat a select group of patients with low-THC cannabis oil. Patient advocates see SPB 7066, by state Sen. Rob Bradley, as an opportunity to increase the level of THC allowed in medicine and the number of patients eligible to use cannabis as medicine.
Bradley sponsored the CMCA last year and has made its implementation a priority this year. The House sponsor of the act was state Rep. Matt Gaetz. Last week, he tried to amend a bill creating the “Right to Try Act” to include marijuana.
Gaetz promoted his amendment with a libertarian argument – getting government “out of the way” of dying people wanting to use marijuana to escape the pain in their final days.
Gaetz withdrew his amendment but said he was encouraged by the House response to his proposal. There’s a vivid libertarian streak among House members.
“If you are facing death and there is a substance you want to use for your personal health, that’s not set forth in this legislation, assert your constitutional right and use it,” said state Rep. John Wood in supporting the Gaetz amendment.
“The ball is in the Senate’s court,” Gaetz said. He added that if the Senate sends to the House an amended Right to Try bill that allows a higher level of THC and cannabis medicine other than oil, he thinks the House will approve it.
The Senate version of Right to Try is up Monday in the Fiscal Policy Committee. State Sen. Jeff Brandes is the sponsor.
“Senator Brandes has been the cannabis innovator for many years and he now has an opportunity,” Gaetz said.
While lawmakers wrestled with marijuana prohibitions, a block west of the Capitol an administrative law judge is preparing to hear a legal challenge to the Department of Health’s proposed rule implementing the 2014 act.
On Friday, DOH filed a motion for dismissal of the lawsuit brought by Master Growers, on the grounds the petitioner lacked standing and has failed to respond to a previous motion questioning Master Growers’ standing. DOH requested an expedited ruling.
Master Growers complained to Judge W. David Watkins, who is presiding over the case, that DOH is not cooperating with its discovery requests. DOH tells Watkins that’s because most of the 35 questions submitted are irrelevant to the case.
DOH said they are “overly broad, unduly burdensome, irrelevant, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”
The department’s response is here.
Master Growers asked Watkins to tell DOH to answer the questions. The motion is here.
If Watkins dismisses the case or if the department prevails, then the proposed rule for the 2014 law could go into effect within 20 days.
That victory for the state, though, does not necessarily mean work to expand the use of medicinal marijuana would stop at the Capitol.
“I do believe that we can have a regulatory structure pursuant to SB 1030 (CMCA) that is implemented side-by-side with changes to the Right-to-Try bill,” Gaetz said. “I do not believe them to be mutually exclusive.”
And Gaetz also does not think work on SPB 7066 should end in the wake of a favorable court decision to implement the rule for SB 1030.
“I think there are other provisions of that bill relating to transportation and lab testing that are admittedly improvements on the product I helped draft last year,” Gaetz said.
The Senate moves first on Monday. Watkins, as of Sunday afternoon, had yet to act on the motion for an expedited decision to dismiss the challenge. If he does not act then, the hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
In all likelihood, this is the week Florida takes a significant step enabling its residents to use marijuana as medicine.