Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation to extend telehealth renewals on medical marijuana and ensure more Black farmers participate in the industry.
The bill (HB 387) had bipartisan support in the Florida Legislature, though the tying of two issues together at times put the legislation on uneasy footing. The bill’s original version focused on extending the ability to renew medical prescriptions for cannabis remotely.
But in the final days of the Session, lawmakers also addressed a long-pressing legal commitment to authorize medical marijuana licenses for a dozen Black farmers.
“Today is historic,” said state Rep. Spencer Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican.
“Gov. DeSantis continues to demonstrate his commitment to expanding patient access to medicine, in alignment with the overwhelming majority of Florida voters.”
The law goes into effect on July 1.
The signing offers many supporters a sigh of relief. Speculation arose in recent weeks that DeSantis might veto the bill over the promise of licenses for farmers within a specific minority demographic. The Governor this year has focused on ending Diversity, Equity and Inclusion requirements within the state government.
But the Governor’s Office ultimately did not see any problem with the legislation worth nixing the bill.
Notably, the language about Black farmers satisfies federal requirements in place since 1999. For six years, the Legislature has sought to bring fairness to state licenses for marijuana production and come in line with the federal Pigford v. Glickman settlement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which prohibits government discrimination against minority farmers.
When Florida first launched its medical marijuana licensing program, none of the first dispensaries were minority-owned. It took until September for the state to give a license to legally grow and sell marijuana to a Black farmer, Terry Gwinn. But another 11 applicants for that permit were still denied and sued the state for discrimination.
The late-in-Session amendments to the telehealth bill resolve that conflict and ensure all the applicants can legally obtain licenses.
The Senate ultimately approved the bill unanimously, a win years in the making for Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat.
“It’s a wonderful day that we have come to this point in the journey,” Rouson said.
The Senator said Black farmers effectively were victims twice, by the USDA in 1999 and by Florida after voters first approved medical cannabis in 2016 but failed to include them in licensing.
“This bill goes a long way toward giving them justice and giving them the opportunity to participate in the medical benefits of marijuana and the largesse that has been enjoyed by other members of the industry,” Rouson said.
He worked on the bill with Sen. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat. Her constituency includes the family behind Robinson LLC, one of the applicants for a license that will benefit from the bill. The family includes 100-year-old Leola Robinson, one of the original Pigford-class farmers and one who failed to secure a Florida cannabis license.
“This was a major step for the Legislature to fix a years-long process,” Davis said. “These Black farmers have been waiting, with litigation going on for years. It was time for us to correct the wrong.”
She also noted that access to licenses for farmers could be passed on to their descendants.
Roach supported that amendment.
“I am proud to have played a small part in moving this toward the finish line and am grateful to Speaker (Paul) Renner and President (Kathleen) Passidomo for keeping an open mind and for truly allowing the process to work,” Roach said.
Likewise, Rouson said he was extremely grateful to Passidomo, a Naples Republican, for ensuring the bill could be taken up and passed this Session.
As for the telehealth provisions, supporters always felt confident the Governor would agree to allow the renewal of medical marijuana prescriptions for patients using telehealth, partly because he already authorized such renewals temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic. DeSantis also extended the ability for counties impacted last year by Hurricane Ian.
The bill still requires a physician to conduct an in-person physical examination for a patient before first recommending cannabis. If a patient changes doctors, it always requires an in-person meeting with a new physician. But renewals from then on can be authorized with telehealth visits online or over the phone. Doctors who violate the rules outlined in the bill could face a two-year suspension.
Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Lake Mary Republican, had carried the telehealth bill in the Senate.
“The state of Florida took a significant step forward in enhancing health care accessibility today as Gov. DeSantis signed into law a groundbreaking bill aimed at improving medical marijuana telehealth services,” he said. “This momentous legislation promises to revolutionize the way patients receive medical cannabis consultations and further establishes Florida as a progressive leader in health care innovation.”