The Florida Senate voted 31-7 to approve an amended version of a medical marijuana bill, sending it back to the House for a final vote on Friday.
But with the clock running out on the 2017 Legislative Session, the fate of the proposal remains unclear. The Senate amended the House bill (HB 1397) to limit the number of retail facilities licensed growers can have and remove a provision that would have made medical marijuana exempt from sales tax.
Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who carried the Senate’s implementing bill (SB 406), acknowledged the change marked a difference of opinions between the two chambers.
“I will tell you, this is a disagreement we have at this time,” he said.
The bill approved Thursday initially caps the number of retail facilities a licensed medical marijuana treatment center can have at five. The bill allows growers to add one additional store for every 75,000 patients that registers with the medical marijuana use registry.
Bradley said the Senate believes the new language dealing with caps strikes the right balance of allowing access, but making sure there “won’t be a dispensary on every corner.” Under this scenario, Bradley said once there are 300,000 qualified patients in the state, there will be more than 280 dispensaries across the state.
The House bill did not include caps, and Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the House sponsor, has spoken out against caps.
The amendment also removes a provision included in the original House bill that would have made medical marijuana and medical marijuana delivery devices tax exempt. Rodrigues has long said the House measure would not include a tax on medical marijuana, saying he wanted to honor advocates requests to treat “medical marijuana like medicine.”
The revised version of the bill also calls on the state to issue 10 additional license this year. The state would then be required to issue five additional licenses within 6 months of 75,000 patients registering with the compassionate use registry.
While the bill passed, some members continued to express concern about the measure. Sen. Jeff Clemens, who voted for the bill, was among those who expressed concern that the bill prohibits patient from smoking, noting that it is the only way some patients can get relief.
“This has been the issue I probably struggled with the most,” said Bradley, who said research has shown inhaling smoke into the lungs is not a healthy act. “We shouldn’t slow walk it, because that’s not the Constitution demands, but we should proceed cautiously. It is a feature of pacing.”
The bill could be taken up by the House on Friday. Although session has been extended, legislative leaders have said the only issue to be discussed on Monday will be the 2017-18 budget.
That means Friday is likely the last chance lawmakers will have to pass implementing language this Legislative Session. The House is scheduled to go into Session at 1 p.m.
“All of this effort is about the patients, and too much time and discussion and focus has been about other things,” said Bradley. “At the end of the day, what this is about is some of our sickest, fellow citizens getting something they are entitled to receive.”