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Medical Marijuana Moves To Senate Floor

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Credit Bokske via Wikimedia Commons

Medical cannabis legislation is heading to the Senate floor for the second time after a clash in committee.  But time is running out for the proposal to gain passage in both chambers before session closes.

Whether medical cannabis legislation passes or fails this session the pivot point for that debate came in the House Health and Human Services committee.

“The rules of the House permit a committee to substitute one piece of legislation for two pieces of legislation on a similar subject,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) says.

He and Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) combined separate measures to get the legislation onto the House floor.  But the move also raised the ire of opponents like Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart). 

“I have to say this combination of two bills puts me between a rock and a hard place,” Harrell says.

When Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) attempted to bring the Senate companion measure in line with the changes, other senators immediately tacked on almost forty amendments.  Leadership then referred the proposal back to the Senate rules committee.  By the time senators were unspooling the proposal in committee the amendment count had grown to sixty.

Bradley says the Senate needs to move now to complete the work it began with the compassionate use act of 2014.

“Senators, two years ago we made a promise to families that we all met,” Bradley says, “that we all some of us got to know them very well, and here we are two years later and we have not made good on that promise.”

Bradley’s original bill gives terminal patients access to the drug.  The new language also makes changes to the existing medical marijuana framework—most notably providing a pathway for new growers. 

But with a medical marijuana constitutional amendment coming up on the November ballot, Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) questions the urgency.

“Why is it so important?” He asks.  “I mean why the push to have this bill to with the point of where we’re limiting debate and stuff to get this done right now, and then the voters may adopt something that’s even more expansive—or you know a different regime.”

“Why’s it so important to do this now?”

Bradley worries without a framework in place lawmakers could lose control of the cannabis industry.

“If we get caught flat footed we will be the next California.  We will be the next Colorado,” Bradley argues.  “What we’re doing now is we are setting the regulatory system.  We are defining the rules.”

Former Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) frames his response in more high minded terms—saying for him, voting yes is a moral imperative.

“Let me see if I can answer Senator Latvala’s question at least as I answer it for myself and perhaps I can persuade others,” Gaetz says.  “It’s important now because two years ago in Pensacola I held a child in my arms who was suffering four to five violent epileptic seizures a day, a child who at that rate because of the damage done by those seizures would be dead before he’d be able to graduate from high school.”

But Latvala fired back.

“We’ve got somebody who got left out so we’re now this bill takes care of them, and we’ve got eight more people who think they were left out and maybe this bill will take care of them,” Latvala says.  “This is about making money, as much or more as it’s about helping sick people and that’s my moral imperative to vote no.”

Both lawmakers have a point. Initial missteps from the Department of Health, and the financial stakes of an industry limited to only a handful of licensees made the 2014 measure’s roll out adversarial.  And while patients have waited the legal challenges only seem to multiply.  The new proposal attempts to put those fights to bed.  But with the close of session looming and a floor vote in both chambers ahead, the sponsors have little room for error.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.