Miami Herald: Voters OKd medical marijuana; Florida lawmakers should simply comply

The devastation of the opiate epidemic cannot be understated, nor can the urgency of doing something — anything — to alleviate its effects.

Gov. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi understand the gravity of this crisis, working with law enforcement, the Legislature and other stakeholders to attack the insidious threat to public health and safety from multiple fronts.

Freshman Rep. Nick Duran gets it as well, filing a bill to modernize our prescription drug monitoring program to stave off abuses. Duran’s comprehension of this issue is sadly borne from the tragic death of his brother-in-law, David.

David was a friend of mine, too. He ran the statewide grassroots campaign for the 2014 medical marijuana initiative, and managed efforts to collect thousands of petitions to put medical marijuana back on the ballot in 2016. He had been clean and sober for years when he relapsed last year. Fentanyl took his life.

Opiate overdose deaths rose by 72.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, the most recent two years for which data is available. There is no one who believes that 2016 — the year David died — will be any improvement.

Addiction is a disease, like cancer, or AIDS, or influenza. It cannot be eliminated wholesale, but we can and must take steps to obviate its human impacts.

This sorrowful state of affairs begs the question of why the Legislature — and Gov. Scott — are not acting more swiftly and forcefully to implement the medical marijuana law that 71 percent of Floridians approved last fall?

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research found that in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws from 1999-2010, opiate overdose deaths fell by an average of 25 percent vs. states where medical marijuana remained illegal. On that basis, more than 800 lives could have been spared in 2015.

Authors of the Johns Hopkins study point out they haven’t established a direct link between medical marijuana laws and the decrease in deaths. But the correlation is too strong to ignore. It also tracks with anecdotal reports.

I’ve been a medical marijuana advocate for more than four years. Throughout that time, I’ve spoken with innumerable people throughout Florida who give medical marijuana the primary credit for saving their lives: People who clawed their way back from an addiction to prescription painkillers by using marijuana. Others who must still take narcotics to manage their suffering, but who take far less as a result of having access to marijuana. Still others who chose to never swallow that first OxyContin or Percocet, relying on marijuana at the outset, fearing even a flirtation with opiate dependence.

During last year’s campaign for medical marijuana, which I managed, we ran a television ad featuring Miami Beach physician Dr. Jeffrey Kamlet. A specialist in pain management and addiction medicine, and twice past president of the Florida Society of Addiction Medicine, Kamlet pleaded with viewers to approve Amendment 2 so that he could have the option of recommending marijuana, instead of narcotics with addictive and lethal potentials, to his patients.

It is such an established cliché that the Chinese word for “crisis” is the same as the word for “opportunity.” With medical marijuana, though, the opportunity isn’t being presented as a result of the opiate crisis, but because of the popular will of 71 percent of Florida voters.

Legislators should seize it nonetheless.

Here is what we know: Opiate overdoses claimed 3,228 lives in Florida in 2015; marijuana has never taken a life by overdose, in thousands of years of human use; data suggests — but does not prove a direct link — that medical marijuana might save countless lives from opiate overdose.

Acting swiftly to implement medical marijuana doesn’t even necessitate political courage — it’s mandated by the state Constitution. All state lawmakers have to do to save lives is to do their jobs.

By Ben Pollara

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Tallahassee Democrat: Moore: Florida is losing millions in medical marijuana license fees

Open the licensure process in Florida for medical marijuana under Amendment 2. There are 10,000 new businesses waiting to start.

It has been said that “an island cannot rule a continent.” Yet right now in Florida, that is predicted to happen with Amendment 2. Journalists report that an island of powerful lobbyists represents the seven licensees for the medical cannabis industry in Florida. Their goal: to bar the doors, rather than open the market to new licensees as allowed by Amendment 2.

Florida taxpayers missed out on an estimated $740 million of revenue from our law’s discriminatory language and lack of licensure in medical marijuana. An open market of licensure would have created a thriving industry and significant revenue through licensing applications and renewal fees.

Consider that most state’s grower licenses are $100,000 to $200,000 and dispensary licenses are $5,000 to $10,000 each. Renewal fees have similar rates and are a wellspring of new funds for state budgets.

This figure is real lost taxpayers dollars, as applications and licensing fees are paid in full before a company makes or sells its first product. To date, the only license fees collected were from seven dispensaries organizations, totaling approximately $1 million. But this was neutralized by the cost of defense for the state of Florida in litigation by challenges to the law. Losses to taxpayers and the state will continue to mount until the status quo is changed and the market is fully open to licensure.

If you’re still not clear how low and out-of-line Florida’s licensure figures are, let’s compare Florida to other legal medical cannabis states:

  • Florida has 7 licensees for a population of 20 million
  • Washington has 1,050 licensees for a population of 7 million
  • Colorado has 3,000 licensees for a population of 5 million
  • Oregon has 540 business and 65,000 individual licenses for a 4 million population

Florida lost $740 million of revenue over three years, because Florida closed the door to licensure except for a hand-picked few. That lost revenue could have been a $3,800 bonus for Florida’s 190,000 public school teachers or a $9,300 annual raise for 40,000 sworn sheriff’s deputies and police officers.

Let's use Amendment 2 as it was written. Florida can license 10,000 new businesses and create up to 200,000 new jobs for our citizens in their own towns – good jobs with the economic freedom to live in a place where you want to live, work in a profession you enjoy, and earn a living-wage to feed your children and support your family.

Tvo do anything but implement Amendment 2 with an open and horizontal market is to literally take food off the table of the citizens of Florida and out of the mouths of the children of our counties.

Open the licensure process in Florida. Ten thousand new businesses are waiting to start.

By Mark Moore, M.D.

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Tampa Bay: Romano: Florida loves its booze, but not its medical marijuana

Glad to see your dedication to the free market, Rep. Larry Ahern.

You too, Reps. Wengay Newton, Chris Sprowls, Sean Shaw and James Grant.

In fact, there were a dozen state representatives from the Tampa Bay area who decided Wednesday it would be good public policy to allow hard liquor to be sold next to the Pop-Tarts at your neighborhood Walmart or Target.

So can I assume you will show the same free market fervor when it comes to implementing the medical marijuana amendment this week?

Because, I've got to tell you, the Florida House of Representatives is currently looking like the silliest bunch of hypocrites in the land. They are poised to pass a bill that would make it absurdly difficult for patients to get access to medical marijuana just days after making it easier for alcoholics to buy their hooch.

So, if you follow the logic, we need to monitor the heck out of medical doctors treating patients with debilitating or terminal diseases, and yet we'll sell rum and vodka in stores with teenage clerks.

No mixed messaging there, huh?

This is the kind of nonsense that makes it impossible to take state legislators seriously. This isn't a difference of opinion, this is a lack of integrity.

You cannot honestly champion the idea of free market ideals to sell liquor, and then interfere with the availability and cost of medical marijuana by limiting sales to a small group of handpicked farmers.

No one in Florida — other than big-box stores and alcohol manufacturers — was clamoring to change the law that required package stores to operate separately from retailers.

And yet the Legislature made it a priority.

On the other hand, more than 70 percent of Florida voters passed an amendment intended to make medical marijuana available to patients in need.

And yet the Legislature is eager to place restrictions on that amendment.

"Alcohol kills thousands of people every year in Florida, whether that's through traffic fatalities, direct overdoses or repercussions from chronic abuse,'' said Ben Pollara, who engineered the medical marijuana amendment last fall. "Marijuana, meanwhile, has proven medicinal purposes and has the potential to decrease opiate overdose deaths, which are at epidemic levels in Florida."

There is still a chance that Florida will come to its senses on this issue. The Senate has a proposal, with great influence from Sen. Jeff Brandes, that will allow for greater flexibility in the growing, distributing and acquisition of medical marijuana. The hope is that the Senate and House will negotiate a plan that will not make it too difficult or expensive for patients to get the appropriate medicine.

If that compromise does not happen, then the Department of Health will likely establish rules that will more closely follow the House model. And those rules will also likely be challenged in court.

Not every local House member voted for the alcohol expansion on Wednesday. Reps. Chris Latvala, Kathleen Peters, Dan Raulerson, Ross Spano and Jackie Toledo, in particular, defied GOP leadership on the issue. I may eventually disagree with them if they vote for more restrictive laws on medical marijuana on Friday, but it will be an honest disagreement.

At least they're standing on an established principle.

The rest seem to stand where they're told.

By John Romano

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PRESS RELEASE: Statement from Ben Pollara on HB 1397

Thursday, March 7, 2017
Contact: Vanessa Satterfield
Email: [email protected]

Statement from Ben Pollara, Executive Director of Florida for Care, on HB 1397:

"I believe Leader Rodrigues was sincere and thoughtful in his approach and authorship of this law, but I can't help but be dismayed by the House proposal. The bill begins by moving backwards in many ways critical to the letter and spirit of the constitution, and in some cases, the existing low-THC Cannabis statute.

In addition to banning smokable and edible marijuana products, HB 1397 bans the vaporization of marijuana oils, except for terminal patients. That is a further restriction than what even the current law allows.

HB 1397 also offers only a modest expansion of the marketplace for medical marijuana treatment centers and again takes a step backwards in doing so. Forget about government not being in the business of picking winners and losers, HB 1397 literally picks losers in the issuance of the first tranche of new licenses proposed in the legislation. The bill calls for the first five licenses issued to be awarded to applicants who previously applied for, but failed to win, a license under the current law.

Today is the start of session and I hope this bill is the start of a meaningful debate in the House over the merits of this approach and that as the bill moves through the process, it applies more free market principals."



FLORIDA POLITICS: Jeff Brandes files medical marijuana implementing bill

Bt Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster - Sen. Jeff Brandes wants a total overhaul of the state’s medical marijuana laws, filing legislation to repeal current law dealing with low-THC cannabis and replace it with a new regulatory system.

The St. Petersburg Republican filed the legislation (SB 614) Wednesday. A long-time critic of the current medical marijuana system, Brandes’ bill has the potential to open up the market beyond the seven dispensing organizations under law.

“The overwhelming support of Amendment 2 was a strong mandate that Floridians demand fundamental change to the way we regulate medical marijuana,” said Brandes in a statement. “The laws on the books today promote a state-sanctioned cartel system that limits competition, inhibits access, and results in higher prices for patients. This legislation outright repeals Florida’s defective law.”

Under the proposal, vertical integration of medical marijuana treatment centers is not required. Instead, the bill creates four different function licenses — cultivation, processing, transportation, and retail — that a medical marijuana treatment center can obtain. The bill allows treatment centers to get any combination of licenses. That’s a departure from current law, which requires dispensing organizations, similar to a medical marijuana treatment center, to grow, process and sell their own product.

“Florida should focus on what is best for patients,” he said. “The state today artificially limits the number of marijuana providers, promoting regional monopolies and standing in the way of the physician-patient relationship. This legislation removes those barriers, and will provide expanded access to Floridians who could benefit from the use of these products.”

The cultivation license would allow a license holder to grow and harvest marijuana; while a processing license would allow the permit holder to convert marijuana into a medical marijuana product, like oils, creams and food products, for qualifying patients.

Medical marijuana treatment centers with a transportation license would be allowed to deliver products to other treatment centers. It also allows centers to deliver the product directly to qualified patients, which the proposal states may not be restricted by local jurisdictions.

The proposal restricts retail facilities to 1 license per 25,000 residents. It allows local governments to regulate zoning and safety standards, and allows local governments to prohibit stores from opening up in their community. More than 50 cities across the state already have a zoning moratorium in place banning or restricting dispensaries.

Beyond getting rid of vertical integration, Brandes’ bill opens the door for future growth by removing current requirements, like how long a company needs to be in business or how much of the product they can grow.

“Senator Brandes’ implementing bill does an excellent job of establishing a comprehensive, tightly regulated medical marijuana system in Florida. SB 614 respects both the language of the constitution and the mandate that voters delivered on this issue,” said Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for the United for Care campaign, which backed the medical marijuana constitutional amendment. “The two most essential pieces of implementation are maintaining the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship, and expanding the marketplace to serve patient access. SB 614 does both in a well regulated, well thought out manner.”

Brandes is the second Senate Republican in recent weeks to file a bill focused on implementing Amendment 2, the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.Last month, Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill that would, among other things, allow for the growth of medical marijuana treatment centers once the number of registered patients hits a certain number.

Under his 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. It 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.

The Department of Health also initiated the process of creating rules and regulations governing Amendment 2 in January. The department has until July to put rules in place to implement Amendment 2, which passed with overwhelming support in November.

Under preliminary rules, medical marijuana treatment centers — which under new rules would be the same as a dispensing organization, must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

A spokeswoman for the health department said in an email last month that agency looks forward to “receiving input from all interested stakeholders through the open and transparent rulemaking process.”

Brandes’ bill also:

— Adds paraplegia, quadriplegia, and terminal conditions to the list of debilitating medical conditions as adopted as part of Amendment 2;

— Establishes criteria for caregivers and requires the background screening of caregivers;

— Restricts patients and caregivers from cultivating their own marijuana, and requires patients obtain marijuana from registered medical marijuana treatment centers;

— Grandfathers in existing dispensing organizations; and

— Applies a sales tax to the sales of marijuana and medical marijuana products.

If Brandes’ proposal makes headway in the Senate, that sales tax issue could run into some trouble in the House. While a House bill hasn’t been filed yet, Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who is expected to carry the bill, has said the House version won’t include a tax on medical marijuana products.

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TAMPA BAY TIMES: Tallahassee is late, and lame, on medical marijuana

By John Romano - Voters gave them a solution.

Others states have given them a road map to follow.

And still there are people in Tallahassee who seem hell-bent on fouling up Florida's medical marijuana program with unnecessary and unwieldy regulations.

It doesn't have to be this way, and it shouldn't be this way. More than half the nation is moving forward with medical marijuana, and more than 70 percent of Florida voters agreed it was the smart and compassionate thing to do by passing Amendment 2 last fall.

Yet the state's Department of Health has weighed in with proposals that defy the language passed in the amendment. And some lawmakers are talking about conditions that will almost certainly make it harder and more expensive for patients to get their medication.

Meanwhile, parents such as Clearwater's Dani Hall are left worrying about a battle they thought had already been fought and won.

Both of Hall's sons, ages 11 and 13, are autistic, and she has been waiting for marijuana's legalization to combat the anxiety, depression, rage and other issues associated with their condition. She's known other parents who have gone out of state for medical marijuana products, but she instead chose to advocate for Amendment 2's passage and remain within the law.

"I simply can't take the risk of having my kids taken away from me if we ever got arrested,'' Hall said. "That's the crazy thing. We've done everything right, we got the amendment passed and now we're still fighting all these little battles all over the place. It's like two steps forward, and one step back.''

There are a number of potential problems with some of the regulations being talked about in Tallahassee, but three stand above the rest:

1. As they did with Charlotte's Web — a modified form of medical marijuana with a small list of eligible patients — some lawmakers want to limit the number of growers in the state.

Never mind that this is antithetical to the state's normal free-market obsession, it could also create a supply/demand problem that would make prices soar and conceivably send patients to the black market.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has proposed a bill that would add growers as the state's patient list increased, but Amendment 2 guru Ben Pollara says the state's patient-to-grower ratio would still be five or six times higher than most other states. And there's also the problem of giving the first round of growers a head start on signing agreements with municipalities for dispensaries.

"What we are creating is the definition of a cartel,'' said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

2. The Department of Health proposal would limit the number of ailments eligible for marijuana and put the list in the hands of the state Board of Medicine. The amendment specifically says individual doctors should have the authority to make those decisions.

3. Language in some of the proposals could also make doctors wary of signing up for the approved list of physicians who can recommend marijuana. Since it is still technically against federal laws, some doctors are concerned by language that suggests they will "order'' marijuana instead of "recommending.''

All of these problems are unnecessary and easily solvable. Brandes is planning to introduce legislation in the coming week that would eliminate Bradley's proposal to limit the number of growers. Brandes also suggests there is no need for growers to control the product from inception to delivery, and proposes creating separate licenses for growers, processors, retailers and transportation companies.

"I hope that we can have reasonable discussions about this,'' Brandes said. "Using the (Charlotte's Web) regulatory system designed for 1,000 sick children when you're now looking at potentially 250,000 patients is crazy. That mindset is absolutely insane.''

What's exasperating is that lawmakers should know better. They bungled the rollout of Charlotte's Web, and children had to wait an unconscionable amount of time before it became available.

And though the Legislature had zero interest in legalizing marijuana on its own, lawmakers had to know this day was on the horizon based on polls and what was happening elsewhere in the country.

"They have this attitude of, 'We have to take a conservative approach because we don't know what's going to happen.' That's nonsense,'' Pollara said. "We know what's going to happen. We know how it's supposed to work. We have two dozen other states that have already shown us.''

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TAMPA BAY TIMES Editorial: Voter intent on medical marijuana ignored

The Florida Department of Health's first draft of rules authorizing medical marijuana falls far short of what is prescribed in the voter-approved constitutional amendment. State regulators are proposing only a limited expansion of Florida's existing program and an unwarranted restriction on which patients can access it. Amendment 2, approved by more than 70 percent of voters, legalizes marijuana for people with an array of ailments, and the state is obligated to craft a program that ensures access to it.
Before the constitutional change took effect Jan. 3, Florida allowed terminally ill patients to use full-strength marijuana and certain other patients to use a strain low in THC to alleviate pain and other symptoms. Seven growers are authorized to produce and sell marijuana for the entire Florida market. With the approval of Amendment 2, full-strength marijuana is legal for patients with several conditions specified in the ballot language, such as cancer, HIV, glaucoma and PTSD, or "other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

That means it should be up to a patient's doctor to determine whether marijuana would be an appropriate treatment. But the Department of Health's proposed rules say the drug should be legal only for the ailments specified plus those approved by the state Board of Medicine. Amendment 2 makes no mention of the Board of Medicine, and the rule that is ultimately adopted should conform with the clear intent of the amendment.

The proposed rules also stick with the current number of seven growers authorized to sell medical marijuana, even though Florida's market is poised to gain hundreds of thousands of customers. The rules don't allow separate entities to grow, produce and distribute marijuana products, adhering to the current "vertical integration" model that requires growers to be equipped to service the entire supply chain from seed to storefront. Legislation filed by Sen. by Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, goes a little further, requiring that five more growers be licensed within six months of there being 250,000 patients in the state. The Health Department's proposals maintain the status quo that stymies competition and growth, and Bradley's bill does not do enough to change that.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is set to file a bill that would loosen that stranglehold while still requiring sensible regulation. Brandes proposes creating four separate licenses — for growers that cultivate the plants, processors that produce and package the products, retailers that sell them and transportation companies that deliver them to patients. Companies could obtain one or all four licenses for a one-stop shopping business model. There would be no limit on the number of growers in the state, letting the market determine how many Florida can support. Doctors would decide whether patients should be certified to use medical marijuana. On the regulation side, processors would be required to make products that look like medicine — no gummy bears — and are sold in clearly labeled packaging. Smokable marijuana would be allowed.

As several counties and municipalities have implemented moratoriums on medical marijuana storefronts, Brandes' bill would cede considerable control to local governments to restrict the number and location of retail outlets. But it would prohibit a cap on delivery-only facilities that don't sell directly to the public. The broad concepts in Brandes' bill, which is supported by the Florida for Care advocacy group, would provide a sound foundation for an industry that Floridians clearly want.

By defaulting to the limited medical marijuana program already on the books in Florida, the Department of Health is not following the intent of Amendment 2. Florida needs a comprehensive rewrite of existing regulations that reflects the will of the voters.

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MIAMI HERALD: Medical marijuana law starts to take shape in Florida Legislature

By Michael Auslen - Jacel Delgadillo is still waiting for her 5-year-old son Bruno to be able to use medical marijuana legally in Florida.

Bruno suffers from a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome. When he started using cannabis, Bruno went from having hundreds of seizures a week to fewer than five. Though voters in November overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that eases access to medical marijuana, Delgadillo frets that lawmakers are reversing course, hashing out plans that would further limit access to the drug.

Seventy-one percent of voters approved the measure, but it's “something completely different” than what lawmakers are now considering, said Delgadillo, who lives in Miami.

She worries Florida’s laws will ban edibles and smoking the drug — so-called whole-plant use that she says voters expected to be legal. Caps on the number of businesses that can grow and sell the drug might limit the variety of cannabis available to her son, she said.

In recent weeks, the state Senate and the Florida Department of Health released proposals that would mostly keep control of the marijuana market in the hands of a few companies licensed to grow marijuana, process it and sell oils and pills to patients. Leaders in the Florida House, which have not yet released a plan, say they are inclined to do the same.

Instead of creating a whole new marijuana system, the Senate and health department proposed adding new patients to an existing, limited program passed two years ago. It allows terminally ill people to use full-strength marijuana and certain patients, including children with severe epilepsy, to use strains of cannabis low in the chemical THC, which causes a high.

Rules proposed by the health department ahead of public hearings across the state would allow only the seven currently licensed growers to produce and sell medical marijuana to the larger market. They also want to restrict marijuana’s use to a list of specific medical conditions including cancer and HIV and require that the state Board of Medicine approve any changes, though Amendment 2 gives doctors freedom to recommend the drug when they think it is appropriate.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, proposed allowing the current growers to run the market. But his bill (SB 406) requires that five additional growers be licensed within six months of there being 250,000 patients in the state.

The Florida House is thinking along similar lines, said Health Quality Chairman Cary Pigman, an ER doctor, but with a much more rapid expansion in the number and diversity of growers.

“I would imagine we’re going to get to over 100,000 [patients] pretty quickly,” Pigman, R-Avon Park, said. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand, and we’re going to see that expand pretty rapidly.”

So far, neither the state nor the Legislature has show interest in allowing businesses to specialize in growing, producing marijuana products or selling.

That might be OK in the beginning, said Andrew Freedman, Colorado’s former marijuana czar. But in the long run, it could be less efficient and give growers more influence in Tallahassee.

“I would expect to see better lobbying teams if you have only a few,” he said to a lobbyist-packed room in the state Capitol. “You will feel greater pressure.”

Critics worry the current growers may not be able to supply enough marijuana for a market that could expand from fewer than 2,000 patients now to hundreds of thousands of users under Amendment 2.

Ben Pollara, who managed the Amendment 2 campaign, said the health department’s rules are “in direct contradiction” of the state Constitution and that the Senate is off to “an encouraging start.” But he’s wary of laws limiting the number of growers and preventing companies from focusing only on growing, selling or extracting the chemicals to make cannabis oils and pills.

“You’re not going to have a diverse set of products for these patients,” he told the Herald/Times. “And the person or persons who might be best equipped to grow the best marijuana may not be the best equipped to do the best extractions.”

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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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FLORIDA LIVE: Senate Bill Proposes Less Restrictive Approach to Florida’s Medical Marijuana Regulations

By Dara Kam - A key senator Thursday released the Legislature’s first attempt at carrying out a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana, with the proposal calling for a growing number of marijuana licenses and making it easier for doctors to order the treatment for patients.

The bill by Sen. Rob Bradley, who was instrumental in passage of medical-marijuana laws in 2014 and 2016, came days after health officials published proposed regulations to implement the constitutional amendment, which received more than 71 percent approval from voters in November.

Under Bradley’s bill, the state could see another 20 marijuana operators — nearly quadruple the seven current licensed “dispensing organizations” — once the number of patients registered for the treatment reaches 500,000.

Christian Bax, director of the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use, told lawmakers last week he expects that many patients to be registered in a state database by the end of the year.

Bradley’s plan (SB 406) would also do away with a current requirement that doctors treat patients for at least 90 days before being allowed to order marijuana for them and would expand from 45 days to 90 days the amount of marijuana supplies patients can purchase. The legislation would also ban edible marijuana products “in a format designed to be attractive to children.”

Ben Pollara, campaign manager of the political committee that backed Amendment 2 in November, called Bradley’s effort “a stark contrast” to the rule proposed Tuesday by the Department of Health.

“It’s a good start toward implementing both the letter and the spirit of the constitutional amendment,” Pollara said in a telephone interview Thursday.
While the health department’s proposed rule appears to overlay requirements now in the Constitution onto current Florida law, Bradley’s legislation makes frequent references to the amendment, Pollara said.

“I appreciate the fact that Sen. Bradley’s bill actually respects that we’re implementing a constitutional amendment here,” he said.

The constitutional amendment allows doctors to order marijuana as a treatment for patients with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. Doctors also have the power to order marijuana for “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

The rule floated by the health department would leave it up to the state Board of Medicine to decide which patients would qualify for treatment under the unspecified conditions, something Pollara objected to strenuously.

Bradley’s proposal does not include any language that would restrict doctors’ ability to decide for themselves if patients qualify for marijuana treatment. But his bill does include a definition of “chronic nonmalignant pain,” something not addressed in the amendment, as “pain that is caused by a debilitating medical condition or that originates from a debilitating medical condition and persists beyond the usual course of that debilitating medical condition.”

“There is a question about how we handle generalized chronic pain. This clarifies that,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, told The News Service of Florida on Thursday.

Under current law, doctors must complete eight hours of training before they can register patients for marijuana treatment. Bradley’s plan would cut the required training from eight to four hours.

Bradley’s bill would also allow the state’s seven dispensing organizations — currently licensed to grow, process and dispense non-euphoric marijuana for patients with epilepsy or cancer, and full-strength marijuana for terminally ill patients — to operate as “medical marijuana treatment centers” defined in the Constitution.

Under current law, health officials must authorize three new marijuana operator licenses — including one license for a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association — once 250,000 patients are registered in the state’s “compassionate use” database.

Bradley’s proposal also would require a member of the black farmers’ association to receive one of the highly sought-after licenses.

Under his plan, health officials would have to grant five more “medical marijuana treatment center” licenses once 250,000 patients are registered in the database; five more when that number reaches 350,000; another five after 400,000 patients are registered; and five more when the number reaches 500,000. His plan also would require five more licenses each time 100,000 more patients are registered after that.

“I don’t think it’s a significant enough expansion of licenses, nor a quick enough one to serve what’s going to be a quickly growing patient base,” Pollara said. “It’s not a perfect piece of legislation, but I think it’s a good start considering it’s the first bill released in either chamber.”

The number of licenses has been a thorny issue for the marijuana industry, but operators who currently have licenses aren’t complaining about the expansion included in Bradley’s bill.

“It appears at first blush he’s found a way to implement the will of the voters while balancing the needs of patient access and protecting patient safety,” Steve Vancore, who represents several licensed medical marijuana operators, said.

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