Florida has approved medical marijuana legislation that would allow terminally ill patients access to medical cannabis, which is being referred to as the “Right to Try” act.
Senator Rob Bradley and Representative Matt Gaetz sponsored the bill (HB 307).
“We can finally deliver on the promise we made to those suffering families two years ago. The delays are over,”
Indeed, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act passed in 2014 promised a conservative medical marijuana program for patients in Florida, but was plagued with legal challenges in a state that has no interest in creating a cannabis industry.
“Today was an important step to take back control of the situation and get it into the hands of families as soon as possible,” said Bradley. Governor Rick Scott office worked with legislators to craft an acceptable version of the bill, which he ultimately signed.
Critics of the bill are skeptical that the new bill will continue to cause legal complications, which will further stall medical marijuana efforts.
“Unfortunately, because of the persistent ineptitude of the state legislature, there are presently zero eligible medical marijuana patients in the state. The bill’s passage today is merely more lipstick on the pig that is Tallahassee’s failed medical marijuana.”
said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care.
The new legislation will allow patients to consume non-smokeable forms of cannabis produced from strains that are higher in CBD and low in THC (hemp). The language of the new law also permits manufacturers to produce concentrates using the whole plant, like CBD oil which can be vaporized or ingested. Five cultivation licenses have been issued so far. There are also provisions for proper labeling and penalties to doctors who wrongly prescribe cannabis.
Up to 250,000 Florida patients will be able to participate in the program. Should more patients qualify, the program would authorize permits to more dispensaries and cultivators to accommodate the expansion.
Although the current program is modest, there are plans for a larger medical marijuana program that will appear on the ballot in November. The proposed constitutional amendment would be similar to Colorado’s Amendment 64, but would not legalize recreational marijuana.
Potential medical marijuana patients in Florida are one step closer to gaining safe, reliable access to limited forms cannabis oil now that a court ruling will allow the Department of Health to begin licensing cultivators as early as this summer.
“Start your engines,” said Taylor Biehl of Capital Alliance Group, which represents marijuana growers eager to distribute a low-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), high-cannabidiol (CBD) strain known as Charlotte’s Web in Florida.
Those engines have been ready to go for some time. Last year, legislators passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, which would allow physicians to recommend that patients suffering from certain debilitating medical conditions use cannabis oil. This limited piece of legislation only allows for the cultivation and use of strains low in THC and high in CBD. However, that ruling has been met with a series of challenges that have delayed what would have been a January 2015 start.
Florida Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins sided with one challenger last year, which forced the Florida Department of Health to conduct a rule-making workshop and revisit the regulations based on recommendations made by a group of hand-selected advisers.
The most recent challenge came from the Baywood Nurseries of Apopka, whose owners claimed that the policy was vague and unfair. The nursery argued that the law favors bigger nurseries that are politically connected. Judge Watkins rejected the appeal, giving the green light to the Florida Department of Health to file the rules as “final” and begin taking applications from growers.
Florida resident, Seth Hyman, who wants access to medical marijuana for his child reported:
“It’s about time we all moved forward on this. It’s been too long, and patients of Florida continue to suffer, which includes my little 9-year-old daughter, Rebecca.”
The law states that in order for a grower to be licensed to sell medical marijuana, the nursery must have been in business in Florida for at least 30 years. Additionally, the company must have at least 400,000 plants available. The Florida Department of Agriculture reports that roughly 100 businesses in the state meet the requirements to apply for one of just five licenses that will be granted.
Dispensaries will have to prove that they can cover the hefty start-up costs as well as the bond. Additionally, they will need to demonstrate that after opening, they will be able to stay in business for at least two years.
It is still possible that more challenges will be brought against the rule. Even without any additional delays, it remains unclear just how soon the medication will be available. There is a 21-day timeframe for growers to apply and 90 days for the department to choose the right applicants. From there, growers need to get the seedlings for the plants, which will be primed to extract oil within anywhere from 90 to 160 days.
“I want to see medicine in the hands of needy Floridians.”
Said Rep. Matt Gaetz, who sponsored a version of the bill in the state House of Representatives last year. Gaetz reported that he thinks the department will move quickly.