Ben Pollara: Fix Florida's medical marijuana law

SUN SENTINEL, by Ben Pollara - Anyone arguing that the constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana in Florida is inherently flawed because it leaves broad authority to the state Department of Health should look to SB 1030 to see what happens when the department is not given such broad authority to do its job.

The state agency held its first public hearing on rulemaking for the so-called "Charlotte's Web" law. Since their hands are tied by statute crafted by politicians, they are forced to live within those political confines, to the displeasure of all involved with the process, but more importantly, to the detriment of families who are so desperate for this treatment.

The "medical marijuana" law passed by the Legislature has been deeply flawed from the outset. To call this "medical marijuana" is analogous to passing a law legalizing cheeseburgers made from soy patties and non-dairy cheese.

And, by the way, only fast-food joints in operation for 30-plus years can produce these burgers. One more thing, only five burger joints are allowed across the state and, I forgot, they have to put up a $5 million bond to apply for a license.

That might be chalked up to humorous, political ineptitude if we were actually talking about cheeseburgers. Unfortunately, we're not. We're talking about a substance that for many families is of life or death importance. Those families are now wishing the Legislature had treated it as such while writing the law.

No one at the public hearing seemed happy about the implementation of SB 1030, and not much can be done about it unless the law is amended by lawmakers, or if Florida voters pass Amendment 2 this fall.

If passed, the medical marijuana law would actually give the department the opportunity to implement a system that works for Florida and for the sick and suffering patients who need this medicine. Because Amendment 2 places broad authority in the hands of the department, not the politicians, they would be free to do so without illogical and ill-conceived restrictions.

During the legislative session, I lauded lawmakers for their courage in tackling this issue, albeit in a limited way. But, the more I learn about the law, the less there is to laud.

I've come to believe that SB 1030 is not an important first step toward medical marijuana policy in Florida, but statutory window dressing that serves only politics, not people.

The "Charlotte's Web" law was created with kids in mind, but now many parents lack the confidence that its implementation will in fact bring their families relief.

This process has crystallized a few things for me: Amendment 2 must pass this fall. It should be left to competent regulators to implement the bill. Legislators should stay as far away from the process as possible.

Let the the politicians handle any cheeseburger policies. They may bungle that too, but at least lives aren't depending on it.

Ben Pollara is the campaign manager for United For Care, an advocacy group based in Coral Gables that supports medical marijuana.

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