The Florida House Wednesday repealed the Legislature’s 2017 prohibition on smokable medical marijuana in a 101-11 vote, sending Gov. Ron DeSantis the legislation he demanded lawmakers adopt by March 15.
Medical marijuana flower buds and pre-rolled cigarettes could be available in licensed dispensaries by mid-summer if DeSantis signs the bill.
“I am very confident that the governor will sign it,” deadpanned House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah.
After two months of committee debate, conducted as lawsuits challenging the state’s nascent medical marijuana program churn through courts, Wednesday’s floor discussion featured little dissent.
Lawmakers had little choice, conceded bill sponsor Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.
Leon County Judge Karen Gievers has ruled the ban violates the 2016 voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana and DeSantis has demanded legislators repeal the ban by March 15 or he’d drop the state’s appeal of that ruling, essentially legalizing smokable medical marijuana with no rules.
“If we do not pass this bill, then the guardrails we have placed around smoking medical marijuana will not exist,” Rodrigues said. “The passage of this bill is better than what will result without it.”
The only real intrigue in Wednesday’s vote was which chamber’s proposal legalizing smokable medical marijuana would be submitted to the governor.
Instead of submitting his House Bill 7015, Rodrigues substituted it with Senate Bill 182, which the Senate had approved last week in a 34-4 vote.
SB 182, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, allows a 35-day supply of marijuana in “a form for smoking” not to exceed 2.5 ounces or, for some prescriptions, up to 4 ounces.
The primary difference between HB 7015 and SB 182 is the House bill allowed only pre-rolled cigarettes while the Senate version would require marijuana operators to sell at least one type of pre-rolled cigarette and other whole-flower products, and allows patients to buy smoking-related equipment at retail outlets, such as smoke shops.
SB 182 bans smoking in public or at private businesses subject to the state’s cigarette smoking ban. Minors under 18 years old are prohibited from smoking medical marijuana unless they have been diagnosed with a terminal condition.
SB 182 sets aside $1.5 million a year to research the benefits – and detriments – of marijuana as a medicine, and creates the Consortium for Medical Marijuana Clinical Outcomes Research to conduct studies managed by the state university system’s Board of Governors.
Oliva told reporters that he voted for the bill because of the research component, noting his concerns about smoking marijuana made it “a difficult subject” for him since his family is in the cigar business.
“I have never heard that smoke, was good for you,” he said. “I don’t know, and we don’t have the data. Hopefully, we will in the coming years and it will show if there truly are benefits to consuming this medicine in this fashion. I personally don’t believe that there probably is. And there might be some detrimental effects as a result of that, which is why I had reservations then and I still have them now.”
Considering Grievers’ ruling and DeSantis’ deadline, Oliva said “there wasn’t much controversy” in the vote. But if it were up to him, he’d consider continuing the legal challenge.
“I think that I would have been interested to hear what would have happened with that appeal,” Oliva said. “We might still.”
Jeffrey Sharkey, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. told Marijuana Business Daily that smokable medical marijuana could be available in dispensaries by summer after the state’s Department of Health issues rules.
But the new law requires the Board of Medicine and the Board of Osteopathic Medicine to each adopt in “rule, practice standards for the certification of smoking” by July 1, 2021, so it is uncertain when, exactly, dispensaries will offer flower buds and individual cigarettes.
There are 242,151 patients and 2,086 physicians registered in Florida’s medical marijuana program, according to the state’s Office Of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU).
Medical marijuana products, primarily CBG oils and vaping liquid, are produced in 14 licensed medical marijuana treatment centers and available at 105 dispensaries in 54 cities.
Florida’s medical marijuana industry is expected to generate about $250 million in sales this year and, especially with smokable products available soon, an estimated $1.3 billion annually.
DeSantis later thanked lawmakers on Twitter “for taking action on medical marijuana and upholding the will of the voters” and praised Oliva, Senate President Bill Galvano, Brandes and Rodrigues for “for their leadership and hard work on this difficult issue.”
The bill will be the first presented to DeSantis for his signature as governor.