Medical marijuana: Health Department must pick up Legislature’s fumble

So much for the Florida Legislature carrying out the will of people when it comes to medical marijuana.

Among the many “up in smoke” headlines was the news the Legislature failed to come up with a law to implement a constitutional amendment establishing medical marijuana in Florida approved by 72 percent of the voters last year.

In the wake of the massive failure, Republican leaders were pointing fingers at each other, marijuana advocates were doing the same and a gubernatorial candidate was calling for a special session.

The lawmakers were not able to compromise on how many dispensaries would be allowed. Now, it is up to the Department of Health to implement the law. It created placeholder rules it published in January into a thriving medical marijuana market that could grow to hundreds of thousands of patients.

The amendment specifies that key regulations be laid out by July 3. The first patients are supposed to get their IDs by Sept. 3 to obtain the drug.

But the department’s proposed rules in January got an earful from critics at town hall meetings who said the state aimed to block patients from timely and affordable access to the medication.

The rules would also restrict physicians in treating their patients and undercut the quality of the product, these critics contend.

The Department of Health issued a statement Monday saying that it took the public comments at five workshops held earlier this year seriously.

“The department is committed to quickly moving through the rulemaking process to create a regulatory structure for Amendment 2,” it said.

The benefits of medical cannabis include relief for chronic pain and muscle spasm. It relieves nausea during chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients. It also has been used for the treatment of Tourette’s syndrome, anorexia, arthritis, migraines, and glaucoma.

But while patients with these ailments wait, Republicans in Tallahassee finger-pointed at each other on Monday.

In an interview with The News Service of Florida, Senate President Joe Negron put the onus on the House for the bill’s demise, while House Speaker Richard Corcoran rejected the blame.

Photo: Creative Commons.

“If I were a voter I would be very disappointed,” said Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who sponsored the House bill to legalize the drug told the Tampa Bay Times. “They had a legitimate expectation that we would pass an implementing bill.”

Meanwhile, former U.S. Rep. turned gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is calling for a special session to enact the medical marijuana legalization amendment.

“I watched my husband battle cancer and the sickening effects of chemotherapy. So many patients with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other debilitating diseases could use medical marijuana as a way to treat their pain,” Graham, Democrat, said in a story by CBS Miami.

“Floridians spent years begging the legislature to take action before taking their case to the voters, but once again, the legislature is ignoring them. If the people of Florida give me the honor of serving as governor, their voices will be heard.”

The two two advocates for medical marijuana in Florida — financial backer John Morgan and United for Care campaign consultant Ben Pollara also turned bitter.

Morgan, an attorney, said Pollara sold out by backing dispensary limits, according to New Times.

Pollara offered his own analysis of the Legislature’s failure in a statement Monday and tried to mend fences with Morgan. He said the House bill was partially drafted by Drug-Free America that banned smokable, edible and vapable forms of marijuana and required a 90-day waiting period.

He said he understands Morgan is angry, but the choices faced were “bad,” “worse” and “the worst.”