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Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis demands end to smokable medical cannabis ban, saying it’s what the people want

Nearly a quarter million medical marijuana patients in Florida will soon be allowed to purchase smokeable forms of marijuana. Gov. Ron DeSantis took many residents by surprise Thursday when he admonished the GOP-controlled legislature for ignoring the will of Florida voters and ordered lawmakers to end a ban on smokables and remove vertical integration restrictions on growers and dispensaries.

DeSantis warned that if the job isn’t done by the time the legislature meets in March, he’ll force their hand by pulling the plug on an appeal by the state to reverse a court decision calling the ban unconstitutional. The governor said he will ask the court for a "stay of decision" until the next legislative session.

An unconstitutional ban

In 2018, 2nd Judicial Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled that the smokables ban was unconstitutional. The state’s licensing limits and the requirement for vertical integration have also been ruled unconstitutional. In all, there are more than 20 lawsuits in state courts.

Desantis labeled the state’s current program a “state-sponsored cartel” saying that it must end.

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“What the Florida Legislature has done to implement the people’s will has not been done in accordance with what the amendment envisioned. Whether they (patients) have to smoke it or not, who am I to judge that? I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved. I don’t think this law is up to snuff.” — Gov. Ron DeSantis

The move comes just days after former Gov. Rick Scott’s outgoing administration made arguments in favor of the smokables ban to the Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, which took place as DeSantis was being sworn into office.

In 2016, the voters of Florida spoke loud and clear on the issue of medical marijuana. Here in Florida, we must have a pathway for those who have a medical need to smoke marijuana to do so!

— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) January 17, 2019

A constitutional amendment to vastly upgrade the states existing medical marijuana program was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in the 2016 elections. Then in 2017, Scott signed a bill which legalized the production and sale of cannabis-infused pills, oils, and edibles but left out smokable products such as dry flower. The bill also severely limited the number of licenses available for growers and dispensaries.

The changes are expected to create a boon in opportunities for cannabis entrepreneurs in the state and result in a substantial drop in prices for medical marijuana products due to increased competition.

Source: Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance

Reaction from Florida lawmakers

Legislative leaders including House Speaker José Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano say they will comply with the governor’s request. Sen. Jeff Brandes has even announced plans to file a bill intended to end vertical integration requirements. Brandes has also expressed that he is in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in the state.

Senate budget chief Rob Bradley told the News Service of Florida, “We’re not where we need to be. There needs to be more licenses. What that looks like is an important discussion to have. Whether that happens through the Legislature or through the courts remains to be seen.”

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Newly seated Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried who campaigned on a promise to expand access to medical marijuana says March is not soon enough to make the transition.

“Every day that medical marijuana in the pure plant form is unavailable to patients, Floridians continue to suffer. This is an issue I’ve seen firsthand throughout our state and country, and one that touches my family personally — my mother was recently diagnosed with cancer, and she is struggling to find medicine that relieves her suffering. The fact that she can’t access the medicine she needs breaks my heart.” — Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried

Source: Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance

Next step: Insurance coverage?

Attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled the campaign to legalize medical marijuana has been leading the fight to reverse the smoking ban. “  In an interview after the press conference (in reference to the popular hashtag #NoSmokeIsaJoke) Morgan said, “No smoke’ is no longer a joke. For me, it is a victory for the people of Florida. This plant was put into nature by God for us, and it works.”

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Morgan is now calling on the state to require insurance companies to cover the cost of the drug to curb the state’s opioid crisis. “When there’s insurance for medical marijuana, that’s when we’re really going to put a dent in the opioid and Oxycontin industry,” Morgan said. “My battle will continue against the opioid industry in court.”

More than 167,000 patients have registered for Florida’s medical marijuana program, and around 1,900 doctors are certified by the state to prescribe medical marijuana. Currently there are fewer than 100 locations in the state where patients can buy the drug, however, home delivery is allowed statewide.

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