Lawmaker, Regulators Offer Differing Medical Cannabis Plans

Jan 23, 2017
Originally published on January 20, 2017 4:13 pm

The Florida Department of Health and a Republican state senator are offering drastically different visions for the future of medical cannabis in the state.  It could set the stage for a contentious rollout of last year’s Amendment Two.

This month state regulators unveiled their plan for implementing Amendment Two, and in about two weeks they’ll take the show on the road—holding public hearings in four cities across the state.   

They’re likely to get an earful when they do.

“They’ve basically ignored the text of the amendment in writing this rule, and tried to fit it within the confines of an existing law,” Ben Pollara says, “versus recognizing the constitution trumps statute, and they should be fitting the previous law into the new confines of the broader constitutional amendment.”

Pollara heads up Florida For Care and helped author Amendment Two.  Rather than taking definitive steps forward in line with the amendment, the department’s initial rule looks back to the existing statutory framework.  The rule changes definitions—not policy.  Dispensing organizations become medical marijuana treatment centers.  Legal representatives fill the role of caregivers.  Requirements for qualifying physicians are the same as they’ve always been. 

“Literally every section, every bullet of their rule, takes a term that is defined in the constitutional amendment and changes its meaning to be the definition that exists in the statute,” Pollara says.

But it is a first draft, and Gray Robinson attorney Richard Blau chalks up the Department’s reticence to its traditional relationship with the Legislature.

“Amendment Two comes along and says build a bigger system,” Blau says, “but the Legislature hasn’t yet given its direction on what that’s supposed to look like or how it’s going to happen.”

“So under these circumstances, as a normal course in the whole context of how administrative agencies work, the agency would really hold off in large part until it received direction from the Legislature,” Blau says.

And just two days after releasing its draft rule, the department got a preview of where the Legislature may be headed. 

Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Port Orange) who has led on medical cannabis in the past, filed a measure establishing benchmarks for adding new growers, opening up the role of caregiver and ensuring patients can continue receiving treatment while the agency works out regulations. 

For Rosalyn Deckerhoff one of the most important proposed changes has to do with physicians.

“Because as it stands right now patients have to have a relationship with their physician—with a physician, a qualified physician—for 90 days before they can have access to medical cannabis,” Deckerhoff says, “and again, you wouldn’t do that with any other medication.”

“If you went in for high blood pressure or whatever, you would get your medicine that day.”

Deckerhoff’s son Barrett has autism and epilepsy, and they treat his seizures with low-THC cannabis.  Bradley’s proposal removes the 90-day requirement and gives physicians greater leeway in recommending treatment.  But it’s still early days for the Bradley bill.  The road ahead could be rocky—just as it has every time cannabis legislation has come up in recent years.  Deckerhoff recognizes the challenge ahead and says she and her family will keep working to educate Floridians about the drug.

“We just want to be kind of the face of who needs medical cannabis,” Deckerhoff says, “and it’s people with sick family members.  Just normal regular people with sick kids and sick family members that aren’t there to abuse the system, just want better quality of life.”

The Department of Health will hold its first public workshop in Jacksonville February 6.  

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