Update: House and Senate members failed to reconcile Amendment 2 implementation prior to the close of the 2017 legislative session. It will now be up to the Florida Department of Health to produce rules and regulations for the voter-initiated program. It is anticipated that the Department’s rules may be overly restrictive and will likely be challenged in court. Rules for the program must be in place by July.

Update: Senate members voted 31 to 7 in favor of a slightly amended version of the House bill. The measure now returns to the House for a confirmation vote. Backers of Amendment 2 have threatened to take legal action if the reconciled legislation keeps in place an existing ban on smoked cannabis.

Update: House members approved an amended version of HB 1397 by a vote of 105 to 9. As amended, the bill permits for edible formulations of cannabis and eases restrictions on vaporization. Patients would need to renew their physician’s recommendation every seven months as opposed to every 90 days. It also permits lawmakers to expand the number of state licensed dispensaries to 17 by July 1, 2018.

Update: The Florida House of Representatives further amended HB 1397 to be less restrictive and more in line with the Senate’s legislation. Final votes are expected this week

Update: Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee approved SB 406 on April 25.

Update: Members of the House Health & Human Services committee passed a committee substitute version of HB 1397 on April 24. The bill now awaits action from the full House. Efforts to reconcile the House bill with Senate Bill 406, a broader implementation bill, have so far not been successful.

Update: Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services passed SB 406 on April 18.

Update: Members of the House Appropriations Committee passed HB 1397 on April 18.

On November 8th, more than 71 percent of Florida voters decided in favor of the constitutional amendment, Amendment 2, to allow for the licensed production, use, and dispensing of medical cannabis to patients with a doctor’s recommendation. However, state politicians are contemplating legislative efforts to amend the law in a manner that violates both its spirit and intent.

For example, House Bill 1397 creates numerous unnecessary barriers for patients. It does not allow for edibles cannabis preparations and it outlaws the smoking of herbal cannabis. Vaporization is permitted but only for those who are diagnosed with a terminal illness. Rather, it mandates patients to use pills, tinctures, patches or suppositories — formulations that are arguably less effective than herbal cannabis. Physicians are also unduly restricted under this measure, as they can not recommend a patients’ medical use of cannabis for longer than a 45-day period, and it mandates a 90-day waiting period prior to issuing recommendations, even for terminal patients.

House Bill 1397 also keeps in place existing caps on the number of state-licensed growers and dispensers. These caps are arbitrary and will not enable providers to keep up with increasing demand.

A preferable legislative effort is Senate Bill 406. Unlike the dueling House measure, this proposal permits patients to access edible and herbal forms of cannabis, allows for patients to vaporize their medicine, allows out-of-state patients with valid medical cards to obtain medical marijuana, and does not exclude chronic pain patients from being eligible to obtain cannabis. It eliminates the 90-day waiting period for recommending physicians and also extends the time-table of doctors’ recommendations from 45 to 90 days. However, the Senate measure — like the House measure — initially caps the number of available providers and dispensers.

Although neither of these bills truly satisfies the true intent of Amendment 2, Florida NORML contends that Senate Bill 406 is preferable to the House bill. With amendments to both bills expected, we urge Floridians to support the Senate implementation bill and to continue to advocate for further amendments to expand patients’ access.

NORML of Florida, Central Florida NORML, Tallahassee NORML, NORML of Miami and Regulate Florida will be in Tallahassee April 18th and 19th to lobby for sensible implementation of Amendment 2.  House and Senate hearings regarding both bills are scheduled for April 18 and public testimony will be permitted.

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