Yesterday Florida lawmakers on a key House panel approved smokable medical marijuana, but all is not as it seems.
Last month Governor Ron DeSantis gave the Florida Legislature an ultimatum, lift the smoking ban with new legislation or he would remove the state’s appeal essentially leaving Amendment 2 up to interpretation. Shortly after DeSantis issued these statements several documents were filed attempting to pave the way to smokable cannabis.
The bill that gained the most momentum was SB182 submitted by Sen. Jeff Brandes, which effectively ended the smoking prohibition. The Senate Health Committee did pass this measure, but only after adding an amendment stating that patients would be required to get a second opinion before they could be prescribed smokable marijuana. While Brandes opposed this change, the measure passed on to the Senate Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee.
Once at this second committee, Brandes was able to sway the panel to do away with the second opinion requirement except in cases of children who are not terminally ill, requiring those patients to seek the approval of a pediatrician. It also added that nursing home and assisted living facility residents, as well as patients under hospice care would be able to smoke their medication if the facility allowed it. Finally, it would allow dispensaries to sell any form of whole-flower cannabis and endorse the use of paraphernalia purchased from smoke shops or other retail outlets.
Brandes proposal seemed to be the most popular, until House Health and Human Services Chairman Ray Rodrigues submitted a proposal of his own. The House had been assembling legislation that would condone smokable cannabis, but only after doctors received approval from a “case review panel” before ordering the prescription. Rodrigues’ amendment removed the “case review” requirement, but added things as well. Rather than submitting patient cases to a panel, physicians would merely give supporting documentation to the state Board of Medicine or the Board of Osteopathic Medicine.
The biggest change however, is mandating that only pre-rolled, filtered, joints be sold as the means of consumption. This measure was intended to address the negative health effects of smoking. It also bans smoking for any patients under the age of 18.
“If that [court] decision were to stand, what we would be facing essentially would be the wild, wild West when it comes to using medical marijuana. We believe there should be guardrails around that. That’s why we’ve reconvened and put this bill together moving forward,” said Rodrigues to reporters after passing his proposal.
The panel approved the amended legislation by a 14-2 vote. This was after several advocates and patients urged members to do away with the smoking prohibition.
One patient present, John Goodson, a veteran diagnosed with PTSD after his service in Iraq, told the panel he has managed to eliminate his high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression medications after beginning medical cannabis treatment.
“I am a medical cannabis patient and I am under the influence of cannabis right now,” said Goodson, adding that concentrates and other forms of medical cannabis “are not as helpful as the smokable cannabis.”
Smoking whole-flower cannabis can be more beneficial for many patients due to the “entourage” effect. Simply speaking, it incorporates all compounds (cannabinoids and terpenes) present in the plant. Various extraction methods used in making concentrates can potentially eliminate some compounds from the final product.
“I have PTSD from Iraq. It really shook my nerves to come up here, but it’s by far the most effective drug that I’ve had,” concluded Goodson.
Another advocate, Lisa McCorkle, claims to have been bedridden as a result of prescription drug side effects until she started smoking. After 10 years of smoking, which has alleviated her ailments, she says that smoking has saved her life. She also admitted that she purchases cannabis on the black market, stating that it is much more affordable for patients, who can then repurpose the whole-flower cannabis themselves.
“We’re allowed to use our medicine as we want at home, right?” asked McCorkle.
Emergency room doctor and House committee vice-chairman, Rep. Cary Pigman, Republican from Avon Park, hesitated before stating, “This is not the right venue to ask questions.”
Although earlier in the hearing, Rodrigues mentioned that patients could do whatever they wanted with their medication in their own homes, “Once the patient has the medicine in their own home, the privacy of their home, they’re free to do with it what they choose.”
With different proposals floating through the House and Senate, including these most recent changes, lawmakers are hopeful that they will be able to pass legislation that meets everyone’s approval, including the Governor’s, by the March 15 deadline.
Sen. Brandes told reporters after the Senate meeting that, “We’ll ultimately find a place to land this … I think the March 15 deadline no longer seems out of reach.”
Rodrigues also commented, “Given how important this is to the governor, I cannot imagine that this will be delayed significantly from the Department of Health.”
One of the two “no” votes on the House proposal came from Rep. Clay Yarborough, Jacksonville Republican, who said he did not want to “restrict what folks are doing in their homes,” but added, “At the same time, if they go out and they are having effects on other people, or driving behind the wheel, or in their neighborhoods, or at the places of employment, that is a concern.”
Clearly there is still disharmony in the Florida Legislature as the March 15 deadline imposed by Gov. DeSantis quickly approaches. Only time will tell if lawmakers can reach an agreement to give patients the right to smoke marijuana.