TALLAHASSEE — Baby steps.
Florida policymakers readily admit that’s the approach they’ve taken when it comes to dealing with pot, both before and after voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.
Even a new governor — and with him, an administration that’s no longer hostile to the concept of cannabis as a cure — might not change that, at least during the legislative session that begins March 5.
The Republican-dominated Legislature, however, is on target to make one major expansion to the state’s cannabis laws.
Responding to an ultimatum issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis, lawmakers are almost certain to repeal Florida’s ban on smoking medical marijuana. If they don’t act by March 15, the Republican governor has threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court ruling that said the ban runs afoul of the 2016 constitutional amendment.
Over the past month, House and Senate leaders have drawn closer to reaching consensus on a repeal, but two differences remain.
The House proposal (HB 7015) would allow dispensaries to sell pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes, but smoking would be off-limits to patients under age 18.
Unlike the House version, the Senate measure (SB 182) would require marijuana operators to sell at least one type of pre-rolled cigarette and would allow them to sell other whole-flower products. It would also let patients buy smoking equipment at other retail outlets, such as smoke shops. The Senate plan would let minors smoke medical marijuana if the patients get a second opinion from a pediatrician.
Both the House and Senate bills are headed to the chamber floors for votes after the session begins next week.
DeSantis told reporters he’s “talked about some broad strokes with folks” but hasn’t seen the legislation yet. He said he’s “willing to sign things if I can have good faith that it’s implementing the will of the voters” fairly.
“It may not mean I agree philosophically on every little nook and cranny, but we’ve got to meet the constitutional threshold. So if their bill does that, then I’ll look at it. So we’ll see how it shakes out, but both leaders know my position on that,” DeSantis, a Harvard Law School graduate, told reporters Tuesday.
Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker José Oliva, whose fortune was made in the cigar business but who has been reluctant to repeal the ban, have deferred to DeSantis, setting aside objections about a paucity of research and concerns about the ill effects of smoking.
“I want to be able to say this is not going to be something that the courts are going to overturn. People voted. We’re going to implement. And then we’re going to move on,” DeSantis said.
The smoking ban was included in a law passed during a special session in 2017, aimed at implementing the constitutional amendment. The law also imposed limits on the number of medical marijuana operators and dispensaries, which gradually increase as the number of patients eligible for cannabis treatment grows.
Leon County circuit judges have found the limits unconstitutional, but the state has appealed.
That state has faced myriad legal and administrative challenges that have mired the medical-marijuana industry in controversy since the Legislature first authorized non-euphoric cannabis in 2014.
The 2014 law was a way for the state to gear up for the anticipated passage of a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana, which happened in 2016.
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