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THC cap mulled by Senate panel on smokable marijuana

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Move to cap THC stalls in Senate

The cap would apply only to patients under 21.

A Senate committee pondered one of the most controversial issues of 2020, a THC cap on cannabis, as an amendment on a previously unrelated bill.

However, it was a heavy lift on its first try and was temporarily postponed in the Rules Committee.

Sen. Gayle Harrell, the Stuart Republican who chairs the Health Policy committee, filed language to SB 230 that would cap cannabis at 10% THC for patients under-21.

That would have included both smokable cannabis and derivatives like vapes and tinctures for anyone under the age of 21.

While carveouts were in place for terminally ill people under 21 and others for whom doctors can justify the smokable product that consumers prefer, the cap was briefly in play in the penultimate Senate committee meeting of 2020 despite the protestations of canna-sympathetic Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican, that his colleagues would “hold the line.”

Harrell withdrew the amendment later in the meeting so the larger bill would move along.

Brandes filed his own amendment, a proviso requiring that licenses of dormant medical marijuana treatment centers be yanked. That amendment to Harrell’s amendment ultimately was not heard.

But in classic Florida Legislature fashion, the omnibus bill became a battleground for a pitched battle in what had been another venue and a potential scrimmage ahead of an attempt to push a similar cap through on the floor before March 13’s Sine Die.

Harrell noted the amendments imposed the 10% cap for “kids” under the age of 21, except for terminally ill patients or in cases where authorizing physicians requested a waiver. It also included “informed consent” to address the negative impacts of marijuana.

Questions abounded.

Sen. Brandes wondered why this was introduced on “day fifty-something.” Harrell did not know if this was in any other bill, but she was “very concerned” about young adults’ brain development.

Brandes noted that two physicians already sign off on cannabis for kids, asking for a specific example that would be remedied.

Harrell was “distressed” by studies relative to schizophrenia, using arguments from a Lancet study that has been dismissed by canna-advocates as junk science and a biased literature review. However, she had no specific example of anyone in Florida impacted by too much THC.

Limits on the strength of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, are necessary to protect developing brains, she told the Rules Committee.

“I am very concerned about what is happening to our young people,” Harrell said. “The studies that are coming out on brain development show that medical marijuana … has a very deleterious effect, especially on young adults.”

Skepticism continued from Democrats, with questions about increased costs to young patients to procure a second opinion. Harrell also couldn’t address industry impacts regarding the bulk of cultivation of higher THC strains before the bill was postponed given questions about the amendment.

The issue, dormant much of the Legislative Session, was sparked anew last month when House Speaker Jose Oliva suggested a cap for flower and derivatives was a “priority.”

The Speaker argues new super-strains in “Europe” produce “schizophrenic results, especially in young, developing brains.”

The language in the Harrell amendment addressed those qualms about cannabis’ potential effect on pre-adult minds.

However, it couldn’t be sold to Senators in its current form, at least not with the very limited time available in the last Rules Committee meeting of 2020.

It wasn’t just weed in committee. Another amendment considered would require county aggregate data published daily in event of public health emergency.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez floated the provision, but sponsor Harrell deemed it “too broad” and generally unfriendly.

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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