With more dispensaries and more options for actually consuming cannabis, the plan approved by a Senate panel Monday could be more in line with Florida’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment than the far more restrictive House plan.
The bill sponsor, state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said his bill “fully implements the will of the voters and does so without playing games or being cute.”
But getting the House and Senate to come together and agree on a single version will be difficult. Even getting the Senate to a single version wasn’t easy.
Five senators filed bills to regulate Florida’s medical marijuana industry, but Bradley’s bill, approved unanimously by the Senate Health Policy Committee, incorporated many ideas from the other bills in a flurry of amendments.
“He kind of met in the middle … on the number of licenses, and I’m really glad he put in the robust and independent lab testing from [state Sen. Frank] Artiles’ bill,” said Ben Pollara, the campaign manager of the group behind the medical marijuana constitutional amendment and one of the amendment’s co-authors.
Along with Artiles’ requirement for independent testing of marijuana, the Bradley bill also now creates a new medical marijuana research group at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
That’s a major step because, due to marijuana’s status as a controlled substance, research on the plant is scant.
The bill also now allows nonresidents to get medical marijuana, as long as they qualify under state law and are approved to get medical marijuana in their home state.
Minors are now barred from buying marijuana even if they qualify; the pot must be purchased by a parent, guardian or other caregiver.
But the bill also expands the supply medical marijuana patients could receive. The limit for a supply was increased from 45 to 90 days at the committee hearing, but doctors could go above the 90-day limit if they believe it’s necessary and the patient will use the dosage as recommended.
The Senate plan also allows more dispensaries now, with five more to be approved by Oct. 3, 2017, and another four for every 75,000 medical marijuana patients.
Finally, a new tracking system is to be adopted that would allow the state to see in real time where growers’ plants are in the process, from seed to harvest, with growers required to provide data to the state.
Anti-drug advocates pushed for the tracking system and ban on purchases by minors. Medical marijuana activists supported allowing nonresidents to get their marijuana in the state.
Still, the differences between the House and Senate versions are substantial. While both bills ban smoking marijuana, the House version also bans vaping and edibles. And the House version would result in fewer grower/dispensers around the state. It calls for five more when there are 200,000 medical marijuana patients and three more for every 100,000 after that.
But the bills have a few things in common as well, such as the requirement that growers also process and dispense the marijuana, rather than having separate growers and retail shops, and the tracking system that was added to Bradley’s bill in the committee hearing.
Whether the two chambers can iron out their differences will determine whether a bill gets to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.
dsweeney@SunSentinel.com, 954-356-4605 or Twitter @Daniel_Sweeney