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Senate panel OK’s amendment to limit number of retail locations allowed to dispense medical marijuana

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A medical marijuana bill advanced through a key Senate panel Tuesday, picking up an amendment that would limit the number of retail locations allowed to dispense medical marijuana.

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee approved a bill (SB 406) by Sen. Rob Bradley to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

The proposal, among other things, calls on the Department of Health to issue five new licenses —at least one of which must be a black farmer —  by Oct. 3; gives patients who are not residents of Florida, but have a qualifying condition and can lawfully obtain medical marijuana in their home state, access to medical marijuana while in Florida; and allows edible products, so long as they aren’t designed to be attractive to children.

The committee backed an amendment by Sen. Frank Artiles that would limit the number of locations license holders can dispense medical marijuana. According to the amendment, licensed growers “may not dispense marijuana from more than 3 retail facilities.” The amendment does not limit facilities that only dispense “low-THC cannabis and sell marijuana delivery devices to qualified patients.”

Artiles said he filed the amendment because he wanted to make sure Florida doesn’t end up like California or Colorado, but also acknowledged three retail locations per license would likely not be the final number.

The amendment received the backing of Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care. Pollara argued without the cap, the current license holders could corner the market, creating a monopoly.

“It will be like the cable companies,” said Pollara.

Growers opposed the amendment, saying they were concerned the impact it could have on patient access. Bradley said he was “agnostic” on the proposal, but would have “a growing objection if the number stayed at three.”

“This is the beginning, not the end,” said Artiles.

The proposal passed with little input from members or the public, but not because of lack of interest. A medical emergency interrupted the hearing, leading members to take a short informal recess and forcing a quick vote before the meeting’s scheduled 6 p.m. end time.

The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House Appropriations Committee passed its implementing bill earlier Tuesday.

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