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How Florida Is Working to Strengthen Medical Marijuana Regulations

(Rusty Blazenhoff/Flickr)
(Rusty Blazenhoff/Flickr)

With a new Florida Senate Bill, the state may give patients greater access to medical marijuana.

To provide a safe, regulated system for medical marijuana disbursement in Florida, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, discussed Senate Bill 460 at the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee meeting on January 20. The committee considered the bill, which Bradley said would give terminally ill patients easier access to medical marijuana. 

The bill was marked as favorable and was temporarily postponed for later discussion this week.

The bill would amend the Right to Try Act of 2015 to include cannabis made by approved dispensary organizations, like plant nurseries, under the regulatory structure of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014. The act authorized physicians to prescribe low-grade THC to patients with medical conditions that produced muscle spasms or seizures. Bradley did not respond to requests to comment.

The bill clarifies the Right to Try Act to include defining caregivers, restricting where medical marijuana may be used and implementing testing and labeling requirements. Additionally, the general theme of the bill is to impose stricter regulations to ensure Florida doesn't repeat other states' mistakes by making it more difficult for physicians, dispensing organizations and retail facilities to access and sell medical marijuana, Bradley said in the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee meeting.

Bruce Margolin, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana (NORML) in Los Angeles, said California's marijuana policy has not gone as well as the state originally anticipated because it has not been regulated well enough.

“Cities and counties are opting out of letting people grow and use marijuana,” Margolin said. “They’re prejudiced against marijuana users and stick to the old-school concept that marijuana is a bad thing.”

Margolin serves as a criminal defense attorney in the city of Los Angeles and specializes in marijuana and drug-related cases. He said he has defended more marijuana cases than anyone in the country and often deals with concerns about possession, cultivation and manufacturing of marijuana.

“It’s so important for people to make decisions for themselves, especially when it comes to marijuana use,” Margolin said. “There is plenty of statistical and scientific evidence that suggest marijuana is a great alternative to other types of medication.”

Like Margolin, Michael Minardi has dedicated his time to understanding marijuana law. After researching how other states were regulating marijuana, he founded the Regulate Florida petition in order to push toward making marijuana what he calls a “new normal” in Florida.

As a practicing criminal defense attorney in Jupiter, Minardi said he is constantly defending people who were caught possessing or cultivating marijuana for medical reasons in Florida.

“These people are not criminals,” Minardi said. “They are just trying to stop the suffering and progression of their diseases.”

Minardi said that with new legislation, like Senate Bill 460, those who are using marijuana for medical purposes would not have to suffer legal consequences, and a structured plan would be created for safe access.

“Through education and regulation, we can provide safe access to cannabis for adults and medical care for those who need it,” Minardi said. “That’s our goal.”

But some Floridians do not think the legislation is strict enough.

Bob Carlson, a member of "Don't Let Charlotte County Go To Pot," a crisis prevention community group in Charlotte County, said he worries medical legalization could lead to recreational legalization.

"We need to do whatever we can to help the terminally ill, but I do think that like any prescription drug, it will just become too attractive," Carlson said. "It's a slippery slope. We need to do everything we can to keep marijuana out of the hands of our children and our grandchildren."

Jeffrey Sharkey, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, said he founded the organization in 2014 to provide a rational voice in the policy debate over how best to serve patients safely, securely and affordably.

“We endorse the concept (of Senate Bill 460) and certainly support the effort by Sen. Bradley,” Sharkey said. “We think it’s a positive option for terminally ill patients.”

Sharkey said Florida would need to have a predictable, safe framework for medical marijuana from the start in order for it to succeed.

This wouldn't be like California's legislation, Sharkey said, which has been a patchwork of different regulations and requirements over the years.

“The proposed amendment is polling very well and has a high probability to pass,” Sharkey said. “There isn’t a lot of opposition to it now because it’s really an act of kindness to the terminally ill.”

Megan is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.