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Smoke if you got ’em: Jeff Brandes will refile smokable pot bill

State Senator Jeff Brandes will revive an amendment he filed during the 2019 Legislative Session that would expand medical marijuana access and allow patients to smoke their medicine, he said during a dispensary opening in St. Petersburg Thursday.

Brandes’ 2017 amendment would have shifted Florida’s medical marijuana law from its current “vertical” structure that requires one company to facilitate all stages of marijuana growth, cultivation and distribution to a “horizontal” integration that would allow separate companies and contractors to engage in any part of the process.

The idea was for people who, for example, specialize in horticulture, to focus solely on growing the product while leaving the retail side of the business to entrepreneurs who have expertise in selling and customer service.

Making that change would accomplish a number of things within the emerging medical marijuana industry. It could drive costs down for consumers by spreading financial risk among multiple entities and by streamlining the industry by using the most qualified professionals in each step of the process.

It could also expand access by leaving the industry able to operate in a more free market.

Brandes’ legislation would also codify into state law a patient’s right to consume their medicine in the way they deem most appropriate for their health.

“Some patients believe that smoking is the best way to find relief,” Brandes said. “That’s what we’re hearing from medical marijuana providers.”

“We think this is what voters thought they were voting for,” he continued referring to the 2014 Amendment 2 that legalized cannabis use for medical purposes.

The Legislature through its rule-making process banned smoking in its implementing language. That issue is working its way through Florida courts in a case originated with Florida attorney John Morgan who bankrolled the Amendment 2 campaign.

The state is fighting that lawsuit and another brief that contends banning smoking is contrary to the amendment Florida voters overwhelmingly approved.

Brandes said his legislation would also likely include language pertaining to edibles, which has not yet been hashed out in the rule-making process. But he said the language must be careful not to allow candy-like edibles that could be mistaken by children for sweet treats.

Brandes said he has no plans yet to address the recreational use of marijuana and hypothesized that will be a future battle for Morgan.

Brandes’ bill is contingent upon him earning re-election. The Libertarian-leaning Republican is facing Democratic challenger Lindsay Cross for his Senate District 14 seat in St. Pete.

Cross’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on her policy priorities pertaining to the medical marijuana industry.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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