Advocates say anti-drug group is helping craft Florida's medical marijuana laws

Advocates who worked to pass Florida's medical marijuana amendment last year say an anti-drug group who opposed the measure is helping write the state's new rules on cannabis.

The Miami Herald reports the Drug Free America Foundation, which was founded by Republican financiers Mel and Betty Sembler, raised millions of dollars in 2014 to defeat medical marijuana on the ballot and continued to raise money in 2016 to defeat Amendment 2. That effort failed after 71 percent of voters supported medical marijuana in November.

Although the majority of Floridians disagreed with the group's position, lobbyists for Drug Free America have still managed to influence legislation regarding medical cannabis, specifically HB 1397. The Herald reports that over half of the anti-drug group's 43 suggestions to prevent the state's medical marijuana from being "abused" have made it into the bill proposed by state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.

Rodrigues' plan has been heavily criticized by patients and advocates after it proposed a ban on smoking, vaping or eating marijuana in commercial food products like brownies or gummies, though vaping would be allowed for terminal patients. The current law in Florida prohibits smoking marijuana, though that definition does not include the use of a vaporizer. Calvina Fay, executive director of Drug Free America, told the Herald it was "an absurd allegation" that her organization wrote the bill. Pollara says Rodrigues' bill caters to the 29 percent of people who voted against Amendment 2.

"The House proposal would have the practical effect of negating the popularly approved law, creating a system in many ways even more limited than the existing, low-THC cannabis statute passed in 2014," writes Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida For Care, in an opinion article for the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rodrigues plan establishes independent medical marijuana testing labs and requires physicians to have a three-month relationship with patients before patients can be recommended cannabis.

"A House that prides itself in not being in the business of 'picking winners and losers' has clearly made its choice here, letting the losers write the law," Pollara writes. "Without significant amending of HB 1397, Floridians who passed Amendment 2 will have to live with this dystopian nightmare. Their only seeming hope at this point is that the Florida Senate continues to operate within the bounds of reality and respect for the voters' will."