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House Appropriations Committee clears medical marijuana bill, despite concerns from advocates

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A House panel cleared the lower chamber’s medical marijuana implementing bill, despite continued concerns from advocates who said the measure doesn’t go far enough.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill (HB 1397) by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The proposal now heads to the Health & Human Services Committee, the final stop before a vote of the full House.

The bill, among other things, calls for a 90-day waiting period before a physician can recommend medical marijuana; prohibits smoking, vaping and edibles; and calls for new licenses to be issued after 150,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

While generally viewed as more restrictive than the Senate proposal (SB 406), Rodrigues said he has been in negotiations with the Senate about what the final proposal could look like.

“This bill is a work in progress,” said the Estero Republican. “Our goal is to produce a bill that honors the spirit of the constitutional amendment.”

Approved in November with the backing of 71 percent of Floridians, the constitutional amendment allows Floridians with debilitating medical conditions, determined by licensed physicians, to use medical marijuana. While the amendment went into effect Jan. 3, state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health have been tasked with implementing the law.

Advocates have expressed concern that the House proposal doesn’t honor the spirit of the amendment, and point to restrictions — like the 90-day waiting period and smoking prohibition — as examples to back up their claims.

“These sorts of extreme restrictions on access will simply serve to drive patients to the black market,” said Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care. “This proposal ignores the Florida Constitution and the will of 71 percent of Floridians. And in addition to that clear, direct conflict with the people’s will, the results of the policies contained within HB 1397 will instead feed the criminal activity that it’s author has said this bill was written to obviate.”

While several members commended Rodrigues for his work, they said they couldn’t vote for the proposal at this time because of the restrictions in place.

“This has probably become the most complicated subject bill this session,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz. “I think it’s more complicated than gaming or anything else, because we have to get it right. What we do here … it has tremendous ramifications if we get it wrong.”

Moskowitz called the 90-day waiting period “completely ridiculous,” and said there was no other medication or product available to alleviate pain where someone would be required to wait 90 days to get.

Rep. Katie Edwards, who co-sponsored the legislation that created the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, also called for lawmakers to remove the 90-day waiting period, saying it was a bad idea from the “word go.”

Rodrigues said the waiting period already exists under the 2014 compassionate use law, which was used as a foundation to build the implementing bill.

“I’m tired of apologizing, members,” said Edwards, after telling a story about having to explain to a relative why their child had to wait 90 days to get medical marijuana. “Don’t make the same mistake I did on some of these issues and have to tell a relative ‘I’m sorry.’”

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee is set to take up its implementing bill during its meeting at 4 p.m.

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