The sponsor of a bill to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment said he is confident the state would prevail if sued over the proposal’s smoking ban.
“We believe we will win that lawsuit,” said House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who sponsored the House’s version of the medical marijuana implementing bill during both the regular and special session this year. “We’re proceeding ahead as if the bill we passed is going to be the way the bill is implemented.”
Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved an implementing bill during the special session, which ended Friday. The measure, which Gov. Rick Scott has said he will sign, allows patients who suffer chronic pain related to 10 qualifying conditions to receive either low-THC cannabis or full-strength medical marijuana. Under the bill, edibles and vaping is allowed, but smoking is banned.
“We don’t believe you smoke medicine,” said the Estero Republican. “We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm.”
That ban has drawn the ire of John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who helped draft the constitutional amendment and bankrolled the 2014 and 2016 campaigns, and other medical marijuana advocates. Morgan has said once Scott signs the bill he plans to sue over the smoking ban, saying the 71 percent of Floridians who voted for the amendment expected smoking to be a way to consume it.
“I don’t know why they would object to anyone on their death bed wanting to use what they wanted to relieve pain and suffering,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press last week. “If they were really concerned about smoking, why don’t they heavily tax cigarettes?”
Morgan said he plans to file the suit in Leon County, and has enlisted John Mills, a constitutional law expert and the dean emeritus of the University of Florida’ Levin School of Law, to help in the upcoming legal battle.
“I know John Morgan believes he wrote (the amendment so) that it would include smoking. We’ll see what the courts say about that,” said Rodrigues. “We had our legal staff review it first, and it’s very clear where he enumerates in the amendment this was illegal and now this is legal. He did not include smoking in this section, and smoking is illegal today. The section where it enumerated where medical marijuana would be legal does not include that.”
Legislation to implement the 2016 constitutional amendment fell apart on the final day of the regular 2017 Legislative Session after the Senate pushed for retail caps for growers. While medical marijuana wasn’t included in the initial special session call, it was added on Wednesday afternoon — the first day of the three-day of the special session.
Rodrigues said leadership had been in discussions since the end of the regular session about how to work out differences, and finally reached an agreement late Tuesday.
The final bill caps the number of retail locations growers can have at 25 locations across the state. However, the measure allows each grower to open five more locations for every new 100,000 patients in the state’s medical marijuana use registry. The limit on retail locations expires in 2020, a provision that was important for House members, said Rodrigues.
Another important provision was making medical marijuana tax exempt. Rodrigues said that was something House leaders said they wanted to do from the beginning, and something that they were able to get in to the final bill.
Rodrigues said he expects legislation to be filed each session to try to tinker with the state’s medical marijuana program, but said there’s only one way there will be a total overhaul of the system
“I only see one instance where what we’ve implemented is blown up. We make it clear this is an implementing bill for Amendment 2. Should there be a future amendment for how marijuana is treated in Florida, our amendment is clear … this implementing bill sunsets and an entirely new implementing bill must be devised,” he said. “That’s the only way I see it blowing up, and given how polling numbers have been on recreational marijuana, below 50 percent for years, I don’t’ see that happening anytime soon.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.