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House OKs in big way bill to expand medical marijuana

The Florida House overwhelming voted Thursday to expand medical marijuana in Florida, teeing up a vote in the Senate on a similar proposal later this week.

Lawmakers voted 99-16 to approve a bill (HB 307/HB 1313) to expand the Right to Try Act to include medical cannabis. Under the proposal, eligible patients — defined as someone with on year left to live — can purchase medical marijuana from dispensing organizations.

It also allows those organizations to grow and distribute medical marijuana products derived from the whole plant, not just low-THC products, to terminally ill patients.

“Unless you have had a family member (who was ill), you have no idea what it’s like to look at them and not know what you can do to help them,” said Rep. Debbie Mayfield, a Vero Beach Republican.

Mayfield’s husband, Rep. Stan Mayfield, died in 2008 from esophageal cancer. On Thursday, Mayfield said the proposal could give relief to families in need and encouraged her fellow lawmakers to “vote on this good bill.”

The proposal, sponsored by Fort Walton Beach Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, creates new regulatory standards, gives assurances to the five nurseries that won licenses in December, and paves the way for more dispensing organizations to come online in the future.

The bill would allow the three more dispensing organizations to be approved once 250,000 qualified patients register with the compassionate-use registry. It also secures a place in line for black farmers when applications for more dispensing applications open up and allows colleges and universities to research medical marijuana.

Rep. Katie Edwards, the Plantation Democrat co-sponsoring the legislation, said the goal of the proposal is to deliver cannabis in “the safest manner in the most responsible way.”

Not everyone was on board with the measure, though. Lawmakers expressed concerns that the bill would open the doors to more people being allowed to legally use marijuana.

“I told you two years ago this was the shot to start the avalanche, and it’s picking up speed,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican. “As much as I love the intention, as much as I love the ambition to help people … I cannot see this as a good policy direction.”

The bill now heads over to the Florida Senate, where lawmakers could begin discussions on the bill as early as Thursday. The Senate proposal (SB 460) is sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley and is substantially similar to the House proposal.

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