How high is too high? Rep. Spencer Roach says he knows.
Roach’s legislation (HB 1455) would limit the amount of euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana. THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
“Doctors and patients are taking advantage of our medical program to do two things: Get rich and get high. Period,” Roach said.
Roach’s bill cleared the Professions and Public Health Subcommittee on a party line 12-6 vote, with Republicans for the proposal and Democrats opposed.
Under the hotly contested bill, smokable plants would be capped at 10% THC by volume. Most smokable cannabis offered to patients at medical dispensaries has more THC than that. It would also limit THC in edibles to 15% and set a 60% max on all other cannabis products.
The potency caps from Roach’s legislation would not apply to terminal patients.
The bill would also restrict minors from obtaining anything other than “low-THC” cannabis unless a physician states otherwise and a second concurring physician opinion is received.
In a Monday press conference, House Democratic leadership spoke out against the bill.
“If you cut the potency in half, people are just going to take double the amount they take. It is, in my opinion, a very bad idea. But I think the intent is not to have this be a good idea where more people are getting the medicine they need. I think the idea is to drive down sales as much as possible,” Co-Leader Evan Jenne said.
Detractors at the subcommittee meeting said potency caps will increase costs to patients, which they say are already too high.
“Patient costs and access to medical cannabis as an issue is what I heard about all summer,” Orlando Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said.
Rep. Anna Eskamani also said the caps infringe on medical decisions better left between a patient and their doctor.
“When it comes to medicinal cannabis, like any other type of medicine, it really is important that a doctor has the decision-making power with that patient,” Eskamani said.
Roach said the current process cannot be trusted. He urged lawmakers to prevent what he warned would be a repeat of the state’s “pill mill” crisis about a decade ago, when rogue doctors dished out untold numbers of prescriptions for opioids to patients who lacked true medical reasons for the highly addictive pain medications.
“In the state of Florida, we have seen this play out before. We know how it ends, and we don’t need a sequel,” he said.
“I would say trusting doctors is exactly what got us into the opioid crisis,” Roach added. “We have doctors taking advantage of this program to get rich, and we have patients, who are drug-seeking, take advantage of this program to get high.”
Democrats attempted to ease portions of the bill they found unsavory through the amendment process, proposing a series of amendments that would expand access to medical cannabis.
Eskamani offered two amendments. One would decrease costs for users by increasing the length of time a marijuana identification card lasts from one year to two years, and another would have added addiction to the list of qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana certification.
Rep. Michele Raynor also offered two amendments. One amendment would allow marijuana certificates through telehealth appointments, and another would have added sickle cell anemia to the list of qualifying medical conditions.
Smith offered an amendment that would repeal all of the THC caps the bill intended to put in place.
All amendments were voted down.
Sometimes decked in pot leaf masks, a parade of testifiers took issue with the studies Roach cited, highlighting the lack of consensus on the science.
“The studies that were used to support these caps showed an association — not a cause. And that is a big difference scientifically,” Dr. Michele Beasley, who owns a medical practice and issues marijuana certifications, said.
The lack of definitive research is an issue that echoes the U.S. Senate’s drug caucus report released last week, which suggested THC caps might be a good idea, but more research is still needed. The report also said research is difficult to conduct because THC is classified as a controlled substance, and the Drug Enforcement Agency strictly regulates controlled substances even for research purposes.
The Republican-controlled Legislature has maintained a dim view of cannabis since laying out a blueprint for the state’s medical marijuana industry after the passage of the 2016 constitutional amendment.
State lawmakers’ approach that has required marijuana operators to grow, produce and dispense cannabis products — a process known as “vertical integration” — spurred numerous lawsuits, including a major legal challenge which remains pending before the Florida Supreme Court. They also initially banned smokable medical marijuana before DeSantis pushed through the change.
The issue of caps has come up before. The Florida House passed a 10% THC cap for patients under 21 in 2020. That measure died in the Senate.
And it’s likely to face major hurdles in the Senate again this year. While Senate leadership has suggested the chamber might be more friendly to similar legislation, Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate measure’s first committee of reference is unlikely to schedule the bill for a hearing. Brandes is a libertarian-minded conservative who has shown past support for medical cannabis and opposition to efforts to thwart it. Accordingly, the bill (SB 1958) has yet to be placed on his committee’s agenda.
The House bill now heads to the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.
Floridians approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that broadly legalized the use of medical marijuana for patients with certain conditions. More than 500,000 Florida residents have been authorized by doctors to use the treatment, and the number of patients continues to climb.
Content from The News Service of Florida was used in this report.