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Medical marijuana advocates disappointed, looking to 2016

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Medical marijuana advocates are now looking to 2016.

One of the casualties of the budget debate raging between the House and Senate is a glitch bill for last year’s Charlotte’s Web law.

SPB 7066 died when the House unexpectedly adjourned the 2015 session three days early.

“I have never seen more lobbyists with their mouths literally drop (open) and I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” Ron Watson said. Watson works health issues and focused this year on the glitch bill.

A budget impasse is not rare for the Florida House and Senate but no one among the reporter and lobbying corps recall a move as dramatic as when Speaker Steve Crisafulli told the House it was time to go home until the Senate was ready to negotiate.

“It is disappointing. When one house decides to leave before our business is through, there are casualties and one of them is there will not be any cannabis legislation this year,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, who made implementation of the Charlotte’s Web law a priority for 2015.

The Department of Health has been stymied in its attempt to implement the Charlotte’s Web law since Gov. Rick Scott signed it last June. Bradley’s rewrite would have rescued it from the lawsuits preventing DOH from issuing licenses to grow marijuana and regulating the sale of cannabis medicine. An amendment he filed Monday would have increased the number of licenses to grow marijuana, the amount of THC in the medicine – making it more effective – and the list of illnesses eligible for cannabis medication.

“I just find it distasteful,” said state Sen. Jeff Clemens, who has been pushing for many of the reforms in Bradley’s fix. “To leave Floridians on the hook for medical marijuana, what we are doing with the Department of Corrections and for persons with a disability, I find it distasteful they would walk away from those issues.”

Bradley was negotiating with the House and trying to persuade senators not to attach any amendments to his proposal the House would find distasteful when the House adjourned and went home. Bradley indicated that although he was working the bill in the session’s final week he was hedging his bets.

“It’s a signal,” he said about the amendment. “It’s a signal that we’re looking whether it be this session or next session to have a place where we can land this plane where all voices are heard and we can have a system that everyone can live with.”

“No one won today, nobody won, taxpayers lost,” said state Sen. President Andy Gardiner. “I look at the list of bills that when you go into the last three days of session, when you (don’t) have the House and Senate as partners working together that will not make it because of the action of the House.”

The House move is a bitter pill for medical marijuana advocates. An administrative law judge has until May 27 to decide the latest challenge to DOH’s proposed rule. The challenge could be tossed as early as this Friday when briefs on a motion to dismiss are due.

DOH prevailing in the lawsuit appears to be the quickest route to having medicinal marijuana available in Florida.  If DOH loses, the rule-making process begins a third time with another round of hearings and potential lawsuits.

“Sen. Bradley’s bill could have done a lot to smooth out the process and help some really sick kids get their medication (but) now all eyes are on DOH,” said Ryan Wiggins, spokesperson for Holley Moseley, one of the leading advocates of the Charlotte’s Web law.

Others are turning their eyes to 2016.

United for Care, the group behind last year’s Amendment 2 authorizing the use of medicinal marijuana. said almost immediately after the House adjourned it was moving forward with a petition effort to put an amendment on the 2016 ballot.

It’s a move state Sen. Joe Abruzzo had endorsed weeks earlier when Bradley’s glitch bill appeared to have stalled.

“This is one more reason why it needs to occur,” Abruzzo said Tuesday. “Now more than ever you have to look at putting the marijuana issue on the ballot.  If the Legislature and the governor are not giving the people what they want, then put it on the presidential ballot.”

Bradley has argued the proper place for a marijuana discussion is in legislative committees and not in 30-second television campaign commercials.  Lobbyist Ron Watson agrees but after Tuesday’s surprising turn of events, Watson is no longer sure.

“I do believe that this should be in statute and not the Constitution but given the chance twice to put it in the statute and they don’t, then I think it is hard to argue against a constitutional amendment,” Watson said.

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