Florida Slow to Make MMJ Available Despite Overwhelming Vote in November

By Paul Gaita 12/06/16

Medical marijuana is not a top priority for the Florida legislature.

Florida Slow to Make MMJ Available Despite Overwhelming Vote in November

An overwhelming majority of Florida voters backed Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases, in the November election. The measure easily surpassed the supermajority requirement of 60%, netting more than 6 million votes or 71.3% approval – 2 million more votes than Donald J. Trump won in the state during the presidential race. Despite such overwhelming support, Florida's legislature has done little to enact voters' wishes and begin the process of regulating marijuana production or distribution centers or issuing ID cards for patients.

Though the amendment will go into effect on January 3, 2017 and the Department of Health needs to set regulations for patient qualifications, caregiver standards and treatment center registrations within six months of that date, Governor Rick Scott has yet to mention any plans to begin this process.

When pressed on the issue, newly elected Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes) said, "All I'd say on that is that we're going to honor the will of the voters, we're going to protect the Constitution, and we're going to protect the people's state of Florida." Corcoran was a noted opponent of Amendment 2 when it was proposed for the November ballot, while his fellow Legislative chief, Senate President Joe Negron has said little beyond his desire to implement the amendment "fully both in letter and spirit."

Though they have hired lobbyists to assist in moving the regulation process forward, Florida for Care, which sponsored Amendment 2, is hoping that a legal battle will not be necessary to carry out the voters' wishes. "We want to be reasonable," said campaign manager Ben Pollard. "We want to do everything in our power to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Keeping the vote out of the courts may be a challenge: though Amendment 2 expands the list of health conditions for which medical marijuana can be used, Florida health department officials have noted that "physicians, dispensing organizations and patients remain bound by existing law and rule." The department's guidelines currently prohibit "full-strength" marijuana to all patients save for the terminally ill, and offers low- or THC-free cannabis oil to children with epilepsy. The other conditions listed in the Amendment 2 language are currently not on the Florida books.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.