Gov. Rick Scott is called upon by the supporters of legalized marijuana to order a special session after state lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have implemented a ballot measure approved by 71 percent of voters in November. In the constitutional amendment, it’s in the discretion of the Florida Department of Health to make rules that would let patients with ailments like HIV/AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis access to marijuana.
However, a few patient advocates and some marijuana activists are afraid that the DOH won’t make suitable rules.
“DOH has an obligation to implement this,” said Ben Pollara, among the writers of Amendment 2 and executive director of Florida for Care. “That’s all the more reason that people really need implementing laws.”
Pollara joined a group of lawmakers and lobbyists who say that the Legislature has to play a part — even if it’s in the following legislative session, which commences in January.
Sen. Rob Bradley, who had driven a medical marijuana bill, said he isn’t assured that the DOH rules will be in line with bills the Legislature put forward, which had a wide-range agreement on many problems, even though they couldn’t achieve a final deal.
“That’s a real worry and the Legislature at a certain point in time must have a bill that implements Amendment 2,” he said. “We have supplied the foundation and the groundwork to get this done eventually. It simply isn’t going to be during this session.”
John Morgan, the trial lawyer from Orlandi who funded the Amendment 2 campaign, called for Scott to call the Legislature back to Tallahassee in a special session focused on cannabis.
Morgan chaired United for Care, the campaign committee that wrote the constitutional amendment, gave DOH the capacity to implement medical marijuana. Nevertheless, he said giving it away completely to the department will probably result in fewer accredited growers — and less accessibility for patients.
“It’s a bureaucrat carrying out the will of the people instead of their representatives,” Morgan said.“It’s perverted.”
When asked if Scott would call a special session and what he wanted to see in DOH rules, a spokeswoman for the governor merely said, “Our office is reviewing our options on this particular issue.”
Weeks of negotiations between Senate and the House behind closed doors broke down in the last days of the legislative session over proposed caps. The sticking point: the number of dispensaries each licensed marijuana grower could open. The problem was so divisive that the two men behind Amendment 2 squabbled on opposite sides, actively pushing against the other’s proposal.
Senators, planning to prevent a couple of growers from ruling the market, pushed to restrict the amount of storefronts each could open. That notion was put forward by Pollara, who ran the United for Care campaign this past year.
Meanwhile, The House, where Morgan was working directly with Speaker Richard Corcoran, sought no limitations, asserting that the free market would allow for high-quality cannabis at low costs.
On most other points, understanding was reached by the two chambers of the Legislature. They intended to remove constraints that patients feared would allow it to be overly challenging to get a doctor’s recommendation for the drug, make medical marijuana tax-free and allow edibles and vaping.
It’s not yet clear what DOH will do with the rules now that it has reigns over it.
The department released draft, placeholder rules in January that might have given the seven present growers licensed under the state’s limited cannabis program all of the business of what could someday be a $1 billion industry. But DOH had indicated that they were waiting on the Legislature to act.
They’ll now return back to the drawing board to write extensive public policy that patients, supporters, business interests and doctors will scrutinize. Several have previously said they’ll consider suing if they don’t agree with the rules DOH comes up with.