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Florida House members introduce non-smokeable medical marijuana bill

Last month St. Petersburg-based state Senator Jeff Brandes thrilled advocates for medical marijuana in Florida with a legislative proposal that he introduced for consideration for the 2015 session. It came just months after Floridians voted by nearly 58 percent margin for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment, a substantial mandate, but short of the 60 percent required for passage.

Now two House Republicans, Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) and Representative John Wood (R-Winter Haven) have introduced their version, but it comes with two significant differences.

Their bill, HB 683, differs from the Brandes’ proposal in that it would give medically qualified Floridians the option for non-smokable medicinal marijuana to alleviate the symptoms associated with specific diseases. Brandes bill does not limit itself to non-smokeable forms of pot, which is one reason why the Florida Sheriffs Association two weeks ago came out to oppose it.

Another difference is that the House bill specifies only certain medical conditions (like cancer and epilepsy) that would allow for a patient to utilize medical marijuana. Brandes’ Senate bill allows for those suffering from symptoms of specific ailments to qualify for medical marijuana, if all other options have been exhausted.

“Our job is to ensure that the steps taken to provide medicinal marijuana does not handicap our law enforcement and continues to protect the health, safety and welfare of all Floridians,” Representative Steube said in a statement. “The focus should continue to be on the fact that this is medicinal marijuana and should be treated as such, and not a gateway to recreational use.”

“Our filing of the companion to SB 528 reflects our desire to continue the legislative conversation that was started with the passage in 2014 of the low THC Charlotte’s Web law, ” said Representative Wood. “We believe that the legislature is the proper forum to debate and resolve the regulatory framework that works for Florida. We want thoughtful consideration of all public policy options. We look forward to receiving input from all the impacted stakeholders, including health care industry and law enforcement, about how to best create a statutory framework that responsibly regulates medical marijuana.”

Senator Brandes did not allude to the differences in the legislation in his quote from the press release.

“I applaud Representatives Steube and Wood for stepping forward and sponsoring this important bill,” the St. Petersburg based senator said. “I’ve heard from many of my colleagues in both the House and the Senate who are eager to help pass responsible policy on medical cannabis. I look forward to a careful and deliberative review of this legislation.”

Brandes’ bill would require patients with medical marijuana prescriptions and their designated caregivers to get medical marijuana photo identification cards. The identification cards would expire after one year, and renewal would require doctors to re-certify their patients’ need and patients to prove they are still Florida residents.

Other provisions in Brandes’ bill include: mandatory eight hours of training for physicians who prescribe medical marijuana; child-proof packaging; and a ban on retailers advertising their marijuana products.

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Last week the Florida Sheriff Association voted 38-2 against Brandes bill.

In their press conference announcing their opposition, the FSA released what it called its “core legislative principles,” nine specific issues that they were looking for in any future legislation that could win their approval. Their first requirement is that any medical marijuana must not be smoked. “You don’t smoke medicine,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told reporters . “You can ingest it. You can absorb it. That gets the necessary relief that people need from THC,” alluding to oils and/or vapors.

Of the 23 states that allow for medical marijuana, only New York mandates that it be non-smokeable marijuana that can be used legally.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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