Monday, January 7, 2019

Key lawmaker expects changes in Florida's marijuana policy after DeSantis takeover

Posted By on Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 10:52 AM

click image PHOTO VIA NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
One of the architects of Florida’s medical-marijuana laws anticipates a “new day in Florida” on marijuana issues after Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis takes over Tuesday as the state’s chief executive.

DeSantis, a former congressman closely tied to President Donald Trump, “is going to embrace issues of access and patient care,” according to state Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.

“I think it’s going to be a priority to have the Office of Medical Marijuana Use have a culture of excellence that focuses on patient access and safety,” Bradley told The News Service of Florida in a lengthy interview Friday. “I think that’s one of the first things that needs to happen for our system to evolve to where it needs to be, and I’m convinced that he’s committed to make that happen.”

Bradley was instrumental in the creation and passage of the state’s first medical-marijuana law in 2014 that authorized non-euphoric, or low-THC, marijuana. The law, aimed primarily at aiding children with severe epilepsy, came in anticipation of a constitutional amendment passed two years later that broadly legalized medical marijuana for patients with numerous conditions.



But legal and administrative challenges have plagued the state’s medical marijuana industry, patients and physicians.

A new administration headed by DeSantis, who takes over as governor Tuesday, seemingly presents a friendlier stance toward medical pot than the administration of outgoing Gov. Rick Scott.

DeSantis has indicated he wants to drop an appeal of a court decision that found the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana violated the 2016 constitutional amendment. A hearing in that case at the 1st District Court of Appeal is still scheduled for Tuesday, the same day DeSantis takes office.

The state is also appealing a court decision that struck down a 2017 law aimed at implementing the constitutional amendment. Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson found that, among other things, the law’s cap on the number of marijuana operator licenses ran afoul of the amendment.

Bradley praised Florida’s medical-marijuana delivery system, which serves more than 160,000 patients, according to a Department of Health website. Nearly 2,000 doctors have undergone training that makes them eligible to order marijuana for patients; the treatment is available at 88 locations, as well as by delivery, throughout the state, according to the website.

The system could benefit from some changes, Bradley added.

“We have a lot of challenges that need to be addressed. The executive branch needs to issue the remaining authorized licenses, and we need to look at expanding competition even further. The Department of Health needs to promulgate rules on edibles, right now. It is unacceptable that that patient option hasn’t been made available yet, because it’s authorized in statute,” Bradley said.

A statutory cap on the number of medical-marijuana operator licenses, imposed by the Legislature, needs to be reconsidered, Bradley said.

But the state needs to be cautious about opening up the market, he indicated.

“It’s important that entities that grow, process and label medicine for public consumption are well-capitalized and built for the long haul,” Bradley, an attorney and former prosecutor, said.

Bradley praised part of Florida law that requires research and data collection that he called “the best in the country.”

Also, Florida dispensaries are “medical centers rather than head shops,” he said.

And, the medical marijuana treatment centers “are well-capitalized and are producing high-quality products,” he added.

“But that all being said, we’re not where we need to be. There needs to be more licenses. What that looks like is an important discussion to have. Whether that happens through the Legislature or through the courts remains to be seen,” he said.

Lawmakers aren’t likely to put up a fight if DeSantis opts to drop the appeal regarding the smoking ban, Bradley said. The prohibition was included in the law based on feedback from medical experts about the dangers of smoking.

“As far as the smoking issue goes, I trust Gov.-elect DeSantis will do what he thinks is right,” the Republican senator said. “But it’s starting to have the feel of an issue we sort of need to have behind us and move on. … It was done for good, solid policy reasons but if the governor-elect decides to move in a different direction on the issue, I certainly respect and understand that.”

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