Medical marijuana advocates protested to no avail Thursday as a second House committee advanced statutory limits to an active ingredient in the plant medicine.
Legislation that would establish maximum caps for THC levels in Florida’s medical cannabis program is now one step from the House floor, having cleared the second of three committees on a 9-6 vote.
A version of this bill has passed the House before.
However, despite having passed the Health Care Appropriations Committee Thursday, there’s still no certainty THC caps could become law this year regardless of House approval.
Amendments from Democrats were downed along party lines. Among them were proposals to strike the cap language entirely, expand the dispensary customer base by allowing MMJ license reciprocity for patients from other medical states, and allow renewal every six years rather than one.
“How many emails did you get from people in your district saying ‘please cap THC’?” asked Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith before the first of his two amendments went down.
During debate, Roach conceded the bill would have an “indeterminate negative” impact on the Department of Health’s bottom line. He added that he had not discussed the bill with Health Department officials to get their position on the proposal. He also did not consult doctors on the changes he seeks to implement.
When asked in debate why these changes were necessary ahead of passage, Roach said: “the best available research” showed the proposed “potency limits” were best for pain. Roach disputed that any scientific study existed that showed THC effective at a rate higher than 10%.
“This is not a medical decision. It’s a policy decision,” Roach said, likening his proposal to a “cap on opioids.”
The sponsor said cannabis was a “highly addictive Schedule 1 narcotic” that has not been subject to the “rigorous” Food and Drug Administration approval process.
The legislator also speculated that “we’re headed in the direction where our medical marijuana program is operating as a recreational program” under the guise of a medical scheme. Roach cited a “startling increase” in certifications from doctors who specialize in medical marijuana recommendations to back up his claim.
Roach’s bill has galvanized the industry and patients in opposition, though they seem to have little recourse in a Republican House where Speaker Chris Sprowls is open to caps.
Roach’s bill previously cleared the Professions and Public Health Subcommittee on a party-line 12-6 vote, and party identification was a reliable predictor Thursday as well.
The bill is moving in the House. But there is no momentum in committees in the Senate, despite an eager sponsor and a Senate President open to the conversation. Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who carried the THC caps legislation passed in the House in 2020, now holds a vote in the upper chamber. But pro-cannabis Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff Brandes will not put the bill on his committee agenda.
Members of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee discussed the legislation Thursday on a conference call, with the committee formally taking a position against a cap.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has already gone on record opposing the cap.
The issue does not appear to be a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who removed a prohibition against smokable flower imposed by his predecessor. This was noted by cannabis advocate Rep. Carlos Smith in debate during the amendment process.
The Governor has been mum on the bill at this writing, but he is not signing off on every GOP proposal from the fourth floor.
DeSantis came out against an unpopular proposed restriction on the Bright Futures program Wednesday, and it’s unlikely that he’d want to defend this position heading into a 2022 reelection campaign.