By JIM SAUNDERS
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
With the bill sponsor saying it “faithfully” carries out a constitutional amendment that voters passed in November, a Senate committee Monday approved a bill that would revamp Florida’s medical-marijuana laws.
“It fully realizes the intent of the voters in passing that amendment,” bill sponsor Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said. “It does so without playing games or being cute.”
The Senate Health Policy Committee voted unanimously to approve the measure (SB 406) after debate that primarily focused on the number of businesses that should be able to receive licenses to grow, process and sell cannabis.
Lawmakers in 2014 and 2016 passed laws that allowed medical marijuana for limited numbers of patients, including a measure last year that allowed it for people who are terminally ill. Under that system, seven “dispensing organizations” have received licenses to be on the ground floor of the industry.
But voters in November overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that will make cannabis available to a broad swath of patients with conditions ranging from cancer to post-traumatic stress disorder. As legislators work on carrying out the amendment, the potential for a dramatically expanded industry has led to heavy lobbying about licenses for what Bradley’s bill calls “medical marijuana treatment centers.”
The Health Policy Committee approved a series of amendments Monday, including a proposal that would add five more businesses that could get licenses by Oct. 3. It also would allow more licenses in the future based on increasing numbers of patients.
David Custin, a lobbyist for Eureka Vapor, Inc., and Kaycha Holdings, LLC, said his clients are the “have-nots” who do not have licenses. He called the amendment on adding licenses “movement in the right direction.”
“This legislature should not be concerned with the seven existing license-holders,” Custin said. “They are going to do just fine.”
But Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, expressed concerns about adding more licenses. He said the existing licensees invested money under the current requirements and moved forward in “good faith.”
“I think we should be concerned about the seven that we’ve already licensed,” Montford said.
The Senate bill still needs to clear two other committees before it can reach the Senate floor. But a bigger challenge might be reaching agreement with the House on issues such as the number of licenses.
A House bill (HB 1397), sponsored by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, would provide fewer additional licenses for purveyors of medical marijuana than a Senate plan would allow.
The proposal, approved last week by a House panel, would require the Department of Health to grant another five licenses once the patient population reaches 200,000, and another three licenses for every additional 100,000 patients registered in a state database.
The House bill also needs to clear two more committees before it can go to the House floor.