Because polling in 2016 showed less than half of all Floridians want to legalize marijuana outright, Ray Rodrigues believes he is doing the right thing by pushing regulations that ban people from smoking cannabis or using edible pot.
“Here’s what we know,” the Fort Myers House Republican told former Congressman David Jolly on AM 820 WWBA Thursday afternoon. “Amendment 2 passed with more than 70 percent of the vote. And for those of us who were polling this issue during the course of the campaign, support for medical marijuana was always over 70 percent.
“However,” Rodrigues added, “during those same polls, we would ask about recreational marijuana. The support for recreational marijuana was never anywhere near the passage rate. It was consistently under 50 percent. So what that told us was the people in Florida want to see patients have access to marijuana for medicinal reasons, but the support for recreational marijuana is not nearly at the same level of support.”
Not every public survey showed that, however. A Quinnipiac poll conducted between April 27 and May 8 of 2016 showed 56 percent supported recreational use; 41 percent opposed.
Rodrigues stunned medical marijuana advocates last week when he unveiled a bill (HB 1397) that included language stating that the medical use of cannabis did not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana in a form for smoking or vaping or in the form of commercially produced food items made with marijuana or marijuana oils, except for vapable forms possessed, used, or administered by or for a qualified patient diagnosed with a terminal condition.”
Rodrigues is not an outlier when it comes to Florida lawmakers pushing medical marijuana regulations to ban smokable pot.
Of five bills on medical marijuana now floating in the Legislature this Session, three prohibit smoking (two others are sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes and Miami Republican Frank Artiles).
Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for United for Care, says that the Legislature is acting like it’s trying to appease the 29 percent of Floridians who opposed Amendment 2, not the overwhelming majority who did.
“Do I think that’s what the people thought they were voting for? No,” Pollara says about a bill that would ban smokable marijuana. “Do I think that’s what the constitutional amendment says? No. I think the constitution allows — if not the smoking of marijuana — then the purchase and possession of smokable marijuana.”
Of the 24 states that have legalized medical marijuana, only two, New York and Pennsylvania, mandate that patients with a recommendation from a doctor cannot smoke marijuana. In Pennsylvania, edible forms of marijuana can’t be sold in dispensaries, but the law allows patients to produce those items at home.
Rodrigues also told WWBA about a 2013 study conducted by Columbia University that found marijuana in a pill form provided longer relief than smoking (4.5 hours compared to 2.5 hours). “When you smoke, you’re using known carcinogens into your body, and reducing lung function,” he said. “So from a medical standpoint, the pill form is definitely medicine. It provides you the benefit of medicine. And the smoking of it is not medicine, it does not provide benefits, it often provides more harm than good.”
“When you smoke, you’re using known carcinogens into your body, and reducing lung function,” he said. “So from a medical standpoint, the pill form is definitely medicine. It provides you the benefit of medicine. And the smoking of it is not medicine, it does not provide benefits, it often provides more harm than good.”
Chris Cano, the executive director of the Central Florida Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (CFL NORML), says that for legislators to determine that smoking isn’t good for some patients is “big government at its worst.” Cano cites the example of Cathy Jordan, a Manatee County woman who has been smoking marijuana for years to control symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
“Cathy Jordan smokes two joints every morning, so that she can cough up the phlegm and fluids that she has due to her ALS,” he says. “So smoking works for her. When he says the science is wrong, he’s absolutely wrong. There’s certain benefits to smoking.”
Michael Minardi, the legal director of NORML of Florida, responded to Rodrigues by citing a 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association study that marijuana smokers performed better on tests of lung function compared to either nonsmokers or cigarette smokers.
Rodrigues acknowledged he has heard from Amendment 2 supporters, who aren’t happy with his bill.
“There were definitely people who believed that they were voting to smoke it because those people have contacted me since we had filed that bill and expressed that sentiment,” he said. “However, I do not believe that is the majority of the people. Clearly, the majority of the people believed they were voting for medical marijuana, and as long as they get the benefits from medical marijuana, the way that it is administered is irrelevant. And I would say that the science is on our side.”
In 2014, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the “Charlotte’s Web” bill, which legalized strains of marijuana high in cannabidiol, or CBD, but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces a high.
For nearly four years, Pollara has worked to make medical marijuana legal in Florida. He says that the attitude of most members of the Legislature this entire time is to make it as “unappealing to nonmusical consumers as possible.”
“What gets lost in that is that sometimes what you need is to get high,” Pollara says. “You can’t extricate the medical benefit from the getting high part of it.”
While it doesn’t appear to be the sentiment in Tallahassee at this point, Pollara optimistically surmises that there’s still plenty of time for the Legislature to come up with a final product before Sine Die.
(WWBA does not yet have a link to the Rodrigues interview on their website yet. When they do, we will include the link).