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Florida bill to repeal ban on smokable medical marijuana headed to the state Senate floor

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told the state senate that they had until March 15 to amend state law to allow for the smoking of medical marijuana. It looks like they’re going to beat the deadline.

Senate Bill 182, which would repeal a statewide legislative ban on smokable medical marijuana has survived the committee review process and is heading to the Senate floor.

Earlier this year, DeSantis charged the state legislature with amending Florida law to allow patients to smoke medical marijuana. If the legislators failed to amend the law by March 15, the governor said that he would amend the law through litigation.

SB 182, sponsored by State Sen. Jeff Brandes, would allow patients over the age of 18 to smoke marijuana if their doctor prescribes it as the best form of treatment.

Patients under 18 would not be allowed to smoke marijuana unless they are terminally ill and have a second opinion that smoking marijuana is the best possible medicine.

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The bill originally required a second opinion for all patients seeking to smoke medical marijuana; however, the recent amendments struck this provision.

“We’re getting closer,” Brandes told the Miami Herald. “The end is in sight; we’re not far. This committee is made up of the senior members of the Florida Senate. What you’re seeing today is that they’re in support of this legislation.”

If legislators don’t meet the March 15 deadline, DeSantis has vowed to drop the state’s appeal of a court decision that ruled the ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional.“I don’t believe the governor is bluffing,” Brandes said. https://t.co/cH2m3tat75

— Jeff Brandes (@JeffreyBrandes) February 7, 2019

What would Senate Bill 182 do if it survives the Senate floor?

In addition to allowing patients to smoke medical marijuana, with their doctor’s permission, the bill would establish a Medical Marijuana Research and Education Board. This Board would direct the operations of a consortium for research purposes.

The bill also states that medical marijuana cannot be banned from nursing homes or hospice facilities that allow patients and residents to have medical marijuana. Dispensaries would also be allowed to offer at least one kind of pre-rolled marijuana cigarette.

In reference to DeSantis’s deadline, Brandes is confident that his bill will make it to the governor’s desk on time.

“We have a very tight timeline to get it to the floor. I would expect this would be one of the first bills that comes up,” Brandess said.

Why is this legislation even necessary? Weed is weed, right?

In 2016 Floridians voted in an overwhelming majority (71 percent) to approve a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. The appropriate legislation was drafted, and in 2017, then Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into the law.

The law allowed legal access to medical marijuana in pill, oil, edible, and vape form. Unfortunately, the bill made smoking it illegal. The law also put a ceiling on the number of medical marijuana licenses and the number of dispensaries allowed in the Sunshine State.

This provision, more commonly known as “the smoking ban,” was challenged in Florida’s second judicial circuit in July 2017.

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The plaintiff, People United for Medical Marijuana, Inc., challenged the ban on two counts: arguing that the ban altered the definition of “marijuana” by excluding the right to have marijuana for smoking purposes, and that state law implicitly authorized smoking marijuana in a private place by banning smoking marijuana in a public place.

On May 25, 2018, Judge Karen Gievers issued an order agreeing with the plaintiffs on both counts, declaring the smoking ban unconstitutional. In her order, Judge Gievers found that “Qualifying patients have the right to use the form of medical marijuana for treatment of their debilitating medical conditions as recommended by their certified physicians, including the use of smokable marijuana in private places.”

The state Department of Health appealed the ruling to the First District Court of Appeal approximately four days later. While this appeal is technically ongoing, a declaration of intent from the governor’s office threw an unexpected wrench in the judicial gears.

In January of this year, DeSantis announced his intention to withdraw the appeal if the state legislature fails to remove the smoking ban from state law by mid-March.

In response to the governor’s announcement, the DOH and the PUMM, Inc. filed a motion to stay the appeal, effectively putting the court case on the smoking ban on pause, until March 15. Thus the specific deadline to get the bill onto the DeSantis’s desk by then.

The stakes

In Florida, there are more than 185,000 patients that qualify to use medical marijuana to treat such illnesses as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease. There are 101 dispensaries with roughly 2,000 doctors eligible to prescribe medical marijuana.

[Two proposed amendments bring New Jersey closer to legalization legislation proposal]

Brandes is hopeful that SB 182 will survive the legislative gauntlet that is the floor reading. He also wants to file a bill later this year that would expand the list of qualifying conditions that could be treated with medical marijuana and even establish a protocol for replacing opioid medications with cannabis.

Hopefully, if SB 182 does pass, Floridian patients will be able to smoke ‘em if they’ve got ‘em.

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