A bill to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment is dead, after the House amended the bill to increases the cap on retail facilities twentyfold.
The decision to send the bill back to the Senate kill the legislation (HB 1397), where senators were unwilling to increase the caps. Earlier in the day, Sen. Bill Galvano told POLITICO Florida the chance of passing was “slim to none, and I just saw slim leave town.”
The House voted 99-16 to send the bill back to Senate with an amendment that, among other things, caps the number of retail facilities per license holder at 100 shortly before 9 p.m.
That cap was 20 times higher than the number of retail facilities a licensed medical marijuana treatment center could have under the amended version of the bill the Senate sent back to the House on Thursday.
That version of the bill capped the number of stores per grower at five, and then allowed growers to add one additional store for every 75,000 patients that register with the medical use registry.
A lower cap, three retail locations per grower, was included in the Senate version of the bill (SB 406), and Sen. Rob Bradley, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said he believed proposal struck the right balance between allowing access and making sure there wasn’t “a dispensary on every corner.” Under the amended bill sent to the House on Thursday, there would have been more than 280 dispensaries in Florida by the time there were 300,000 qualified patients in Florida.
But the House did not include caps in any versions of its proposals, and Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the House sponsor, said this week that he did not believe limiting storefronts “would provide necessary access.”
Rodrigues told his colleagues that the 100 store cap was a compromise, rationalizing that they started at no caps.
“Considering we started with no limitations and they started with three, moving from infinity to 100 … was a compromise,” he said.
The more conservative House has an ally in John Morgan, the Orlando Democrat who poured millions into the campaign, at least when it comes to caps. Morgan took to Twitter to rail against the decision, saying the caps “limit patient access.”
“I believe in a free market economy,” he tweeted this week. “FL House bill with NO caps is the PEOPLE’s choice!”
The amended version of the bill the Senate sent back Thursday also stripped language making medical marijuana tax exempt, Rodrigues said from the beginning the House wanted to include in its bill.
The amendment the House adopted Friday put the tax exemption back in place, but with a sunset provision. Rodrigues took a shot at the Senate, saying he thought the cost of the tax exemption would be shared across the both chambers, but it “appears the Senate has spent all of the money on member projects.”
Legislative inaction now leaves the fate of implementation in the hands of the Department of Health. Under the constitutional amendment, the department has until July to put rules in places.
Senate President Joe Negron said it would have been preferable for the Legislature to act.
“This is an industry that will grow, based on what we see happening in other states,” he said. “I would expect that you will regularly see that issue addressed. And I would expect that the next legislative session will be no exception.”
Bradley said he expects the issue will “be a hot topic when we return and do our business next year.”
“We’ll get there. If we’ve learned anything about these constitutional amendments, whether the Legislature acts or not is irrelevant,” he said. “There will be court challenges, because people will not like what we did when we act, and they won’t like our inaction either. So I would expect court challenges no matter what we did.”
__ Staff writer Michael Moline contributed to this.