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Senate panel OKs medical marijuana bill, speeds up pace for new licenses

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A Senate panel is moving forward with its version of a bill to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment, approving an amended version of the proposal during its meeting.

The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. Facing a jam-packed agenda, members set aside just over an hour to tackle the bill and 15 amendments, leaving little time for public input and member debate.

The panel adopted an amendment that would lower the threshold for adding new medical marijuana treatment centers. Under the amendment adopted Monday, the state would be required to add five additional medical marijuana treatment centers — at least of which must be a black farmer — by Oct. 3, 2017.

The amended bill calls on the state to register four more medical marijuana treatment centers within “six months after each instance of the registration of 75,000 qualifying patients with the compassionate use registry” if a sufficient number of applicants meet the registration requirements. Under the proposal, applicants must be registered to do business in the state for the previous five consecutive years before submitting an application.

Several members expressed concerns about opening up the market to new licenses. Sen. Bill Montford said he was concerned adding five more medical marijuana treatment centers into the market so soon could have a negative impact on companies that are currently dispensing medical marijuana. Montford encouraged members to slow the process down and take a more deliberative approach to expansion, noting they’ll be back in “less than a year” and could make “a more well-informed decision at that time.”

Bradley said the Senate’s position on the number of licenses could put them in a good position to have discussions with the House, which has approved a bill that calls on the state to issue new licenses after 150,000 qualified patients are registered in the compassionate use registry.

The Senate also approved an amendment that would allow patients who are not residents of Florida, but have a qualifying condition to have access to medical marijuana while they are in Florida if they can “lawfully obtain marijuana through a medical marijuana program in a state that he or she resides in.”

The amendment was meant to address concerns raised during a workshop last month about snowbirds or long-term tourists who live in a state with medical marijuana, but can’t access it while they’re visiting Florida.

The committee also adopted amendments to allow the Department of Health to charge “a reasonable fee associated with the issuance and renewal of patient and caregiver identification cards,” an amendment that would require medical marijuana be tested by an independent testing lab, and an amendment that would establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

The bill now heads to the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

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