Sun Sentinel/June 13, 2017/Dan Sweeney
The medical marijuana industry officially has its guidelines with the passage of a bill out of the Florida Legislature on the last day of a three-day special session.
The votes were 29-6 in the Senate and 103-9 in the House. The few no votes were mostly Democrats who wanted fewer restrictions in the bill, but also a few Republicans who remain against the idea of medical marijuana on principle.
Gov. Rick Scott said he “absolutely” will sign the bill. That means big changes for patients, caregivers, doctors and growers, compared with the far more limited medical marijuana law passed by the Legislature in 2014, which resulted in seven grower/dispensers in the state.
A ban on smoking marijuana remains in the bill, though proposed bans on vaping and edibles that were raised during the regular session are out. The smoking ban was the most serious point of contention for Democrats during the special session. State Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Hollywood, and state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, both tried to get the ban removed, but their amendments failed to pass.
The smoking ban is almost certain to result in a lawsuit because the constitutional amendment voters approved in November bans smoking in public. Advocates — and the authors of the amendment — say this is an implicit legalizing of smoking in private.
Patients will be able to obtain a marijuana recommendation for a 70-day supply, with two refills before having to go back to a doctor.
To qualify for medical marijuana, patients must have cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or a condition of the “same kind or class,” though what precisely that means is uncertain. Patients also qualify if they have chronic pain related to one of the named diseases or are terminally ill.
Patients can receive a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor right away — a 90-day waiting period that was in the 2014 law no longer applies.
Purchases of medical marijuana will be sales-tax free.
Before recommending marijuana to patients, doctors have to complete a two-hour course administered by the Florida Medical Association or the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association. That course can cost up to $500.
Doctors who want to recommend marijuana for patients cannot have a financial interest in a grower or testing lab.
To recommend marijuana, doctors have to diagnose a patient with one of the qualifying conditions. That examination has to happen in person — the bill bans telemedicine (remote diagnosis and treatment by such means as phone or email).
Two doctors must recommend medical marijuana for minors to receive it, and the bill bans pregnant women from getting any marijuana except low-THC, noneuphoric varieties.
Doctors are responsible for checking the state medical marijuana registry to make sure their patient is on it, and adding to it the fact that their patient has now been given an order for marijuana.
Because many of the patients who qualify for medical marijuana are too sick to travel to dispensaries or, in some cases, need help administering marijuana, the constitutional amendment that voters approved allows caregivers to pick up marijuana and give it to a patient.
The bill requires caregivers to be Florida residents age 21 or older who are not doctors. They have to pass a background check and complete a training course that can cost up to $100.
A patient can have only one caregiver, unless the patient is a minor, an adult with a developmental disability, or in hospice. Minors must have a caregiver, as they will not be allowed to purchase marijuana.
Caregivers cannot be paid for their work. The Legislature wanted to prevent a caregiver industry from developing.
The 2014 medical marijuana law allowed the creation of seven licensed medical marijuana growers throughout the state. Those growers are responsible for all cultivation, processing, transportation and sale of marijuana.
The bill will add 10 new growers licenses, five by July and another five by October. The rapid turnaround of the first five is possible only because they have already applied and came in just behind the seven current growers in the application process with the Department of Health. The next five will include at least one African-American grower and four others. All of them will have to go through the application process with the Health Department.
Of the four licenses other than the black farmer’s one, the Health Department can give preferential treatment in up to two of them to citrus canning and concentrating operations. This aid to the citrus industry was new for the special session and kicked off intense speculation as to which citrus growers’ lobbyist could have been responsible.
For every 100,000 patients added to the registry, four more licenses will be issued.
Each license holder has to grow, process, transport and sell the marijuana and can open up to 25 dispensaries across the state. They’ll get an additional five dispensaries for every 100,000 patients added to the registry. Plus, if one license holder doesn’t open up its maximum amount of dispensaries, it can sell the extra numbers to another license holder. So, it’s possible for a grower to go over the 25 dispensary cap, but only if they buy a slot from another grower. All these caps will sunset in 2020 without further action by the Legislature.
Growers have to track all of their product from seed to sale, and it needs to be tested by an independent laboratory for THC levels and to make sure it’s safe to be taken — for example, no fungal or bacterial infections.
The bill gives $750,000 to the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa to conduct medical marijuana research. It also creates the Coalition for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Education at the cancer center, which will be responsible for research into medical marijuana.
All of these changes in the state medical marijuana industry will go into effect as soon as Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill into law.