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What happened in Tallahassee and where we go from here.

Friends,

Medical marijuana implementing legislation died on Friday in Tallahassee. The House and Senate couldn't come to a reasonable negotiation on the last day of session. As a result, implementation will have to operate under rules soon to be finalized by the Department of Health—at least until lawsuits are filed and the courts rule on behalf of patients.

When we wrote Amendment 2, we were all very aware that the legislature—which deliberately ignored the needs of patients year after year—would not immediately do an about face and live up to the access now codified in the constitution. We knew that this was likely to go to court at some point. It felt like a given.

However, when we won with 71% of the vote, I think there was great (and perhaps naive) optimism that they would see the light, and make some kind of good faith effort to comply with the overwhelmingly strong wishes of the electorate. There were a number of legislators that did just that and pushed very hard on patients' behalf.

The initial bill out of the House was horrendous. Partially drafted by Mel Sembler and Drug Free America, it was severely restrictive and not only banned smokable, edible, and vapable forms of marijuana, but it also added onerous restrictions on patients, such as a 90-day waiting period and recertification period. It limited treatment to the very specific, enumerated diseases in the constitution, and required insanely detailed justifications from doctors to issue certifications for non-enumerated conditions. It also reinforced the cartel system of marijuana businesses, giving a few big corporate special interests control of the entire market. I believe strongly that this cartel system will ultimately harm patient access through high prices, a lack of diverse products, and no true competition.

The Florida House took a position that maintained and strengthened the cartel-system by allowing them to open unlimited store fronts around the state. The Senate took a position to restrict the number retail facilities a single MMTC (Medical Marijuana Treatment Center) could operate, so that a more diverse, freer market could emerge to serve patients. I advocated strongly for the Senate position, believing—as I still do—that it would result in better access for patients.

Naturally, the cartels didn’t like that and this one industry-oriented detail set off a very intense lobbying battle on both sides.

My mission was to push for—and pass—the best bill we could get. We were one of a number of players engaged on implementation, and unfortunately, this push for greater competition became an intractable sticking point between the House and the Senate, wrapped up in the in-fighting that occurred between the chambers all session.

Our mission—to pass a bill that would guarantee at least some kind of reasonable patient access—failed. For that I am truly sorry to all of you.

John Morgan is livid over this and blames me entirely for the failure to pass legislation this session. I accept that I deserve some of that blame.

However, the choices we faced were "bad", "worse" and "the worst” (which is what happened).

Both bills banned smoking marijuana. Both placed onerous restrictions on the doctor-patient relationship. Both contained numerous new criminal penalties for patients and caregivers. Both would have resulted in litigation.

For nearly five years, I have been an advocate for patient access in Florida. I believed that these details would ultimately matter to patients, and that I was representing their interests.

Those interests tended to align with businesses that wanted entry into the Florida market, and were kept from doing so by an incredibly flawed and politically influenced licensee bidding process three years ago; a process that resulted from the legislature passing a low-THC medical marijuana law in 2014, at least in part in an attempt to thwart the campaign to pass Amendment 2 that year. It is no secret that individuals and businesses in the marijuana industry contributed to both United for Care and Florida for Care.

Florida for Care always advocated for a free market that allowed businesses to grow, because that means better patient access. Period.

I am deeply saddened, not just by the failure in Tallahassee, but about how John views what happened and why.

I love and respect John, without whom we would have never passed Amendment 2. We’ve had very heated arguments in private over policy and strategy in the past, but in the end we recovered and kept our eyes on the goal.

Here’s the thing: Though I’m devastated by his anger, I understand it. He’s a passionate guy, and if he wasn’t, we wouldn’t be this far. If our relationship never heals, it will not erase the many years of fighting together on an incredibly important cause. I have a deep respect and affection for John Morgan and I wish him well. Whether he believes it or not, our interests are largely still the same.

In the meantime, we now have a new mission.

This isn't over.

DOH has implementing authority and Florida for Care will continue to push for the two principles which we advocated for throughout the legislative session:

1. Respect for the doctor-patient relationship as written in the Florida Constitution.
2. An expanded, free market for medical marijuana in Florida, that provides affordable, diverse, patient access through competition.

I will continue to fight for those principles until the will of 71% of Floridians is finally realized in this state.

Florida for Care will continue to fight.

We will be sending more updates soon as to where we go next, but I promise you we aren't going away.

We can’t go away. We have to follow this through.

Once again, I'm sorry to all those who I let down. And I want to—from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of everyone at Florida for Care—thank you for everything you've done and continue to do to advance this cause.

With love and sorrow,

Ben Pollara

Florida for Care

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