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Charlotte’s Web glitch-bill language: More licenses, more products and more diseases authorized

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The fix is in.

Earlier today, state Sen. Rob Bradley’s language for a Charlotte’s Web glitch bill was released.

The proposal will be addressed in a public meeting Tuesday and increases the number of licenses to grow marijuana to 20, expands the number of illnesses authorized to be treated with a medicinal cannabis product, changes the definition of applicant — providing the legal shield from federal banking regulations growers sought– and lowers the financial requirements to be eligible to participate in growing a nascent medicinal marijuana industry.

The proposal — read it here — seems to be written in a way to allow the Department of Health to begin issuing licenses to grow marijuana and process and sell cannabis oil this summer. It is written as Bradley had said to be “self executing,” bypassing the rule-making process.

“I’m glad to see some of the problems we have had in rule promulgation is addressed in law,” said lobbyist Ron Watson, sitting in a Senate hallway with a copy of the new proposal. “I do wish, however, that the THC levels would have been risen because I think to properly help all of the individuals that were added to the list the best way to go about doing that is to ensure that the THC levels are raised.”

SPB 7066 authorizes human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, paraplegia, quadriplegia, or terminal illness to be treated with cannabis. The new language also authorizes the use of cannabis “to alleviate symptoms caused by a treatment for such (authorized) disease.”

However, it maintains a limit on the amount of THC in cannabis medicine to 0.8 percent. Research shows marijuana strains with a higher level of THC is helpful in treating many of the diseases listed — including alleviating the side effects of chemotherapy and other drugs.

“The question is what is the medically relevant information that says that is the right number,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, sponsor of a broader measure lifting many of the restrictions on marijuana prohibition.

“It’s amazing how uncontroversial medical marijuana is when you are holding the hand of somebody with ALS or you are dealing with someone who has terminal cancer,” said Brandes, who would also lift the prohibition on smoking medicinal marijuana.

“At that point whom am I to say whether you should smoke it or eat it, however you should deal with it. That is between you and your doctor. And I think we should trust them to make the best medical judgment for that individual,” said Brandes.

Bradley’s proposal takes care of two major concerns of growers that many suspect drove the two lawsuits filed against DOH’s proposed regulatory structure. It increases the number of licenses from five to as many as 20 — presumably removing an incentive to file a challenge if one feared not winning the competition for one of the licenses and it removes a liability issue that growers feared would place all of their assets at risk for engaging in an industry the federal government outlaws.

Bradley would change the definition of an applicant from a 30-year nursery with a 400,000 plant inventory to “a person that has submitted an application to the department for licensure or renewal as a dispensing organization,” or “a separate entity” owned by the applicant that meets the 30-year, 400,000 plant requirement.

Jeff Sharkey of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida said the wording relieves the heartburn and fear that a family-owned business could risk the owner’s life work by violating the federal prohibition on marijuana.

“What this says is that you can be an applicant when you are applying as a nursery or as this separate legal entity that is owned by the same folks who own the nursery,” explained Sharkey.

“The ownership in a legal definition is different. The license exists with the nursery (the first nursery with the DOA certificate and other assets) and you set up a separate entity that does not jeopardize the nursery assets,” said Sharkey.

Others are not so sure if the language provides the protection that appears to be there at first glance. Lobbyists started preparing immediately for Tuesday’s hearing. A trio could be seen reading freshly printed copies of the proposal outside the Senate documents room shortly after noon Monday.

The rewrite may have solved some problems; protecting assets from the feds, lowering a performance bond from $5 million to $1 million and increasing the number of licenses from five to 20 but it may have created some new ones.

A provision mandating that “a county must determine by ordinance the criteria for the number, location and other permitting requirements for retail facilities” may ignite a fight over zoning.

“I’m looking for a free-market solution,” said Brandes.  “Something that is sustainable and provides research dollars and a pathway for patients to get what the literature says is medicine.”

And as Brandes suggests, Bradley is going to have to convince other members of the Legislature that the glitch bill fixes what’s wrong with the current law.

Bradley begins walking that path at Tuesday’s afternoon Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

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