FLORIDA POLITICS: House Health Quality panel hears from former Colorado pot czar

By Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster - The former Colorado marijuana czar encouraged Florida lawmakers to invest in public education as they begin discussions about implementing Amendment 2.

Andrew Freedman, the former director of marijuana coordination in Colorado, told the House Quality Subcommittee that the state should consider investing in public education, even before tax dollars derived from the medical marijuana industry starts rolling in. Freedman said his state waited until they received tax dollars, and officials were “surprised by what people didn’t know.”

The state spends between $8 million and $9 million a year on public education, which includes public education campaigns focused on driving while high. The state puts $12 million aside for curriculum in schools, and that money is used to help schools screen for high-risk students.

Public education, said Freedman, is “incredibly essential to the success of the program.”

Freedman’s testimony came during a two-hour panel discussion on medical marijuana. The discussion was the second in a series of meetings scheduled as the House begins the process of crafting legislation to implement Amendment 2, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues is expected to carry the bill in the House. Sen. Rob Bradley has already filed a bill the Senate’s version of the proposal.

Among other things, the Senate bill would expand the number of medical marijuana treatment centers, similar to what is currently called a dispensing organization, allowed to operate in the state.

Under Bradley’s proposal, the Department of Health is required register five more medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry.

The bill then allows for more five more treatment centers to receive licenses after the 350,000 qualified patients, 400,000 qualified patients, 500,000 qualified patients, and after each additional 100,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

Existing law does allow for some growth, authorizing the state health department to issue three more licenses once 250,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

The state currently has a vertical integration system in place, meaning the same company needs to grow, cultivate and sell the product. Freedman, who served as Colorado’s marijuana czar from 2013 until earlier this month, said Colorado started with a vertical integration system, with organizations having to grow at least 75 percent of what they are selling. While that remains the case with medical marijuana, Freedman indicated the state has moved away from that system when it comes to the recreational market.

Freedman said there are benefits to vertical integration. It allows the state to know who is doing business in the state, limits the number of licenses issued and the number of background checks required. But in the long run, Freedman said Colorado “didn’t see a big difference” when it came to vertical integration versus horizontal integration.

Lawmakers also heard from Miami Beach Chief Daniel Oates, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, and Lt. Col. Mike Thomas with the Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, all of whom discussed concerns about safety and enforcement.

“Colorado produces the best marijuana in the world,” said Oates, who was representing the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “I think we want to avoid … a thriving black market (in Florida). And we believe very, very strongly everyone should know whether (someone) possesses it legally under a medical marijuana scheme.”

Earlier this month, the Department of Health initiated the process of developing rules for Amendment 2. Under the ballot language, the agency has until July 3 to create rules and regulations to implement the new medical marijuana law.

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