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House medical marijuana implementing bill headed to the floor

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A House panel advanced an amended version of the lower chamber’s medical marijuana implementing bill, preparing the bill for a vote by the full House in the coming weeks.

But with two weeks left until the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session, the House and Senate continue to be at odds when it comes to implementing the 2016 constitutional medical marijuana amendment.

While Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the sponsor of House bill (HB 1397), had hoped to present a reconciliation bill during the House Health and Human Services Committee Meeting, the Estero Republican said he and Sen. Rob Bradley “have not gotten there yet.”

“We have had talks,” said Rodrigues. “I’m confident we’ll get there.”

But changes accepted by the House Health & Human Services Committee appear to move the bill away from the Senate position. The committee approved a committee substitute Monday that, among other things, prohibits pregnant women from using medical marijuana, and prohibits physicians from initiating or maintaining a physician-patient relationship through telemedicine.

“Since HB 1397 was filed, I have been critical of this proposal and have been hopeful it will evolve,” said Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care. “Understanding that negotiations are ongoing, (the proposed changes) all have the effect of moving further from the Senate bill.”

The newly amended bill does establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer and Research Institute, something which is included in the Senate proposal.

The panel, however, rejected a proposed amendment by Rep. Bobby DuBose, which would have, among other things, removed the requirement that 150,000 qualified patients must register with the compassionate use registry before a license is issued to a black farmer.

Rodrigues said the issue of licenses was currently being negotiated with the Senate, and said the amendment was unfriendly.

Opponents continued to criticize the House bill, saying it didn’t follow the spirit of the constitutional amendment, which passed with 71 percent of the vote in November. Several members of the public raised concerns about access, with some saying the bill “picks winners and losers.”

“We need to stop pretending this issue is about hippies and stoners,” said Stephani Scruggs, whose husband suffered a seizure during the Senate meeting on its version of the implementing bill last week.

Some committee members agreed, with Democrats saying they did not think Rodrigues’ bill followed the spirit of the constitutional amendment.

“What we have here is an incredible maze of bureaucracy. It’s a maze of entanglement,” said Rep. Daisy Baez. “This implementing bill does not do the service that 71 percent, or 6 million, people voted for.”

Rodrigues said he continues to work with the Senate on a compromise bill, and hopes to have one soon. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to discuss the Senate proposal (SB 406) during its meeting Tuesday.

“This is a bill that is a work in progress,” he said.

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