AP NEWS

Florida gets closer to repealing smokable medical pot ban

February 21, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida House and Senate are in position to pass bills that repeal a prohibition on smokable forms of medical marijuana when the legislative session begins next month. But differences between the bills will still need to be worked out to beat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mid-March deadline for legislation that ends the ban.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill on a 28-1 vote Thursday, making it ready for a full House vote once the legislative session begins March 5. The Senate bill was unanimously approved in its final committee stop on Wednesday. But Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues told committee members that the legislation they approved will continue to change.

“This bill is not the final version. Although we’ve moved much closer to the Senate position, and the Senate has moved much closer to our position in certain areas, we’re still not quite lined up,” Rodrigues said.

Voters approved medical marijuana in 2016, but lawmakers banned smokable forms of the plant in a bill signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2017. The state was sued over the issue and a judge declared the ban unconstitutional. Scott, now a Republican U.S. senator, appealed the ruling. DeSantis said last month that the current law doesn’t represent the will of the voters and said he’d drop the appeal if lawmakers didn’t repeal it as one of their first actions when their annual session begins next month.

Among the major differences in the bills: The House bill prohibits smokable medical marijuana for anyone under 18, while the Senate bill allows smokable medical marijuana for children as long if they are terminally ill and if two doctors, one of which has to be a pediatrician, says it is the most effective form of treatment.

“We don’t believe children should be smoking medical marijuana,” Rodrigues said.

The House bill also puts restrictions one the use of the plant’s flower for medical marijuana treatment, while the Senate bill repeals current restrictions on marijuana flowers.

Each side did inch closer to the other as the bills were prepared for full floor votes. For instance, the House bill requires smokable medicial marijuana to be sold only as pre-rolled cigarettes, but language was removed that also required the cigarettes to have a filter. The Senate bill now says treatment centers must have pre-rolled cigarettes available, but doesn’t make it the only form of smokable marijuana available.

Rodrigues and Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes were confident the differences will be worked out in time to satisfy DeSantis.

“We’ve got two weeks now to have a conversation before you see another version,” Brandes said. “There’s only a handful of really big issues ... we’ll get there.”