Florida House beats governor’s deadline for lifting the ban on smoking medical marijuana

Mar 15, 2019

Floridian legislators beat Gov. Ron DeSantis’ deadline of March 15 to pass legislation which would lift the statewide ban on smoking medical marijuana.

The Florida House passed Senate Bill 182, on March 13, officially authorizing a patient’s right to smoke medical pot.

“The Florida Legislature has taken a significant step this week to uphold the will of the voters and support the patients who will gain relief as a result of this legislation,” DeSantis said in a statement.

“President Bill Galvano, Speaker Jose Oliva, Senator Jeff Brandes, and Representative Ray Rodrigues have done a tremendous job working hard to ensure the voices of Floridians are heard. I commend them for their diligence on this issue,” DeSantis concluded.

SB 182 will allow patients to receive up to 2.5 ounces of whole flower cannabis every 35 days, in accordance with their doctor’s recommendation.

Patient rights and voters’ say almost went up in smoke

In November 2016, Floridians overwhelmingly voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. With over 71 percent of the vote, Amendment 2 passed into the state constitution; however, with one sneaky caveat: patients were not allowed to inhale—their medical marijuana, that is.

When then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the 2017 bill into law, it legalized access to medical marijuana in either pill, oil, edible, or vape form. Smoking it remained illegal. This legal provision became known as the “smoking ban”.

This ban was challenged in circuit court that same year. In May 2018, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled the smoking ban unconstitutional, but the state Department of Health appealed the ruling.

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

The appeal remained active until DeSantis announced his intent to withdraw the appeal if the legislature failed to introduce legislation that would lift the smoking ban.

In January of 2019, DeSantis called on state legislators to either pass a bill that would allow patients to smoke medical marijuana, or he would take matters into his own hands through litigation.

It seems that legislators like their jobs as much as the next person. So, to avoid litigation, and to align with the will of the voters, SB 182 passed with an overwhelming majority. Approximately 101 legislators voted in favor of the bill, 11 opposed, and seven representatives were not present for the vote. DeSantis has until March 15 to review the bill for signature or veto.

Interestingly enough, SB 182 is the first bill of the 2019 Legislative Session to be sent to the governor’s desk for signature.

What happens after DeSantis signs the bill?

Assuming DeSantis keeps to his word and signs SB 182, the ban on smoking will officially be lifted. Additionally, the bill would establish a Medical Marijuana Research and Education Board. This Board would receive $1.5 million to oversee a research consortium by the state university system’s Board of Governors.

In the previous iteration of the bill, only the University of Florida was able to participate in this research program. SB 182 amended the law to ensure that all of the state’s universities could apply to participate.

House bill sponsor, State Rep. Ray Rodrigues, told the Miami Herald that widening the pool of applicants for research would benefit everyone, especially as it pertains to research on users of medical marijuana.

[More than half of U.S. states working on new and expanded cannabis reforms]

“While there’s not a lot of science out there currently on the effects of medical marijuana, there’s a body of science on the effects of medical marijuana to the developing brain,” Rodrigues says. “But with children who have a terminal illness, long-term concerns are secondary to the short-term concerns.”

The bill would require patients under the age of 18 who are diagnosed with a non-terminal illness to receive a second opinion from a board-certified physician before they would be eligible for medical marijuana.

Rodrigues currently serves as the Chair of the Chamber’s Health and Human Services Committee and wanted to ensure that patients would be protected through rule-making but would still be able to access the medication that they needed.

As stated by Rodrigues, “It is upon [doctors] to do their jobs, to treat this as medicine, and be diligent about how they’re recommending it to their patients. We’ll be watching and we’ll be hopeful that the best will occur. If the best does not occur, this subject will be revisited in the future.”

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