By Jodi James
Rep. Roach on MMJ patients and doctors: They are “Drug Seekers and doctors who just want to get rich.”
Patients using flower or high THC products, medical specialists who certify their use, and the Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs) are all on high alert! A few state lawmakers have the medical marijuana program in their crosshairs. Rather than hearing proposals to make the MMJ program more robust, this fringe group of lawmakers is calling for CAPS.
Patients, caregivers, and loved ones are seeing the legislative process play out firsthand. Thanks to TheFloridaChannel.org showing committee hearings live, MMTCs engaging their patients, and advocates reporting from Tallahassee, the movement is more engaged than ever before. Representatives of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, Florida for CARE, Sunshine Cannabis, and the NORML affiliates are in Tallahassee meeting with lawmakers and keeping the community informed through video, social media, radio, and print news. These groups are supporting calls to action as the bill, HB 1455 moves through its committee assignments.
House Bill 1455, by Representative Spencer Roach (R) of Lee Co., limits the potency of flowers at 10% THC and concentrates at 60% THC. Patients who use high concentrations of THC in flower or concentrates won’t be simply buying more, the bill also CAPS the total milligrams of THC a patient can receive every 35 days. While there is an exception, high potency product availability will be limited. The existing MMTC’s have until June 2022 to comply with the new product requirements under the proposed law; but, there is no guarantee they will be able to produce enough flower under 10% THC to meet demands.
Cannabis Specialists – those doctors who certify patients in the program – are impacted by this proposed legislation. The bill CAPS free enterprise by mandating the Department of Health pre-approves all advertising done by MMJ practices. There are no guidelines proposed in the bill, no time limits on decisions by the Department of Health, and no appeals process.
HB 1455 already passed two of its three committee assignments in the Florida House. Lawmakers are voting along party lines, but behind the scenes, Republican House members are disturbed. They are hearing from constituents and friends who need high THC products. Some are in-the-know about high THC/CBD concentrates in high doses for treatment of cancer, something that would be eliminated under these proposed limits. During the first committee hearing, Republican Rep. Killebrew (Polk Co.) expressed his dislike of the bill. He voted with the Democrats on amendments to expand conditions and make the bill better but ultimately voted to pass the bill out of committee. In its second committee, Representative Trabulsy (R) St. Lucie Co, voted no on the bill, a courageous vote since opposing leadership is a sure way to get opposition in the next primary election.
Florida has a complicated love/hate relationship with Cannabis. Voters love it. In 2016, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment garnished over 71% of the vote. Today, regardless of party affiliation, more than 50% of all demographics now support safe, legal access to recreational Cannabis. But lawmakers, influenced by Drug-Free America founders and Republican king-makers Mel and Betty Sembler, still hear echoes of reefer madness. Those lawmakers are powerful and bipolar on Cannabis; loving FDA-approved Cannabis drugs, hating Democratic Secretary of Agriculture Nikki Fried being in charge of hemp, and intolerant of Cannabis flower being called a medicine.
Patients lose under HB 1455 and its Senate companion SB 1958 by Senator Ray Rodrigues, also of Lee Co.
Advocates have been vocal about the choices patients face if HB 1455 / SB 1958 becomes law. If safe, legal access to medical-grade Cannabis isn’t an option, they will go back where they came from. Some will return to the illicit market, but more will seek the chemical cocktail covered by insurance companies. When the legal flower isn’t an option, patients caught with flower may get an option to choose substance abuse treatment to avoid jail time.
The Florida Senate has held the line the past two sessions when THC caps on flowers were proposed. Senator Jeff Brandes, chair of the first committee assignment in the Senate has no interest in hearing the bill. That roadblock makes it harder for the bill to get to the Governor’s desk, but it isn’t impossible. Florida Cannabis Action Network and our partners will continue to follow all the actions in Tallahassee.
Readers can follow on Twitter @FLCANdoIt, www.facebook.com/FloridaCAN or on the web at www.FLCAN.org/pop.
Jodi James develops the legislative strategy for the Florida Cannabis Action Network. Florida CAN was founded in 1998 to give legal standing to advocates seeking permits to hold hemp fests and rallies. Today, the group boasts of a well-trained leadership team working toward reform at the local, state, federal, and international levels. General membership starts at just $50.00 annually. Follow the bill throughout the session at www.FLCAN.org/pop.