With a looming deadline of March 15 imposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis hanging over their heads, the Florida Senate, by a vote of 34-4, passed legislation Thursday afternoon to lift the ban on smoking medical marijuana in Florida.
“This is a great day in Florida,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale. “We’re honoring the will of 72 percent of Floridians who voted to allow marijuana as a medical treatment option.”
Along with their vote to repeal the smoking ban came words of caution from some senators who directed concerns at doctors across Florida who will be allowed to prescribe smokable cannabis to their patients.
“I want to challenge you (physicians), because it’s in your hands now,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. “When you meet with your patients be serious about this. Be serious about the health of your patients. This is a medicine under the Constitution, treat it as such.”
The Senate, House and Governor’s Office reached agreement earlier this week on the plan to repeal the smoking ban law.
“I think this bill reflects the will of the voters,” Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said Thursday morning. Brandes has been the Senate’s point man on the medical marijuana issue and is expected to introduce the repeal of the smoking ban on the Senate floor later in the day.
“The will of the voters was to have marijuana available in all forms and this does that in a very measured way and I think in a responsible way,” Brandes added.
The Senate, House and Governor’s Office reached agreement earlier this week on the plan to repeal the smoking ban law. As part of the agreement, the House backed off its plan to require the sale of pre-rolled, filtered cannabis cigarettes at medical marijuana dispensaries, while the Senate agreed to place limits on the amount of smokable marijuana a patient can purchase.
Under the plan, patients would be permitted to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for smoking every 35 days.
“We think that puts us right in the middle of the pack amongst where all the other states are,” Brandes stated. “We felt comfortable with the number and it also allows heavy users, someone who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, to petition to the Department of Health for an amount to exceed that. There’s an exception to the outliers.”
The agreement would ban smoking of medical marijuana in public places. It would also allow terminally ill children to smoke medical marijuana, but only if they have a second opinion from a pediatrician.
“I think it addresses the concerns that were raised by the governor,” said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, who has led negotiations in the House. “And I think it’s a package that will enjoy bipartisan support in both chambers.”
“We didn’t get everything we wanted into the bill, but no one does,” Rodriguez added. “So the question is does the bill accomplish the goal and the objective and, in this case, I believe it does.”
The agreement would allow dispensaries to sell any form of smokable marijuana, as well as items that patients could use from which to smoke the cannabis. Such devices could also be purchased at other retail outlets, such as head shops.
Shortly after taking office, DeSantis called for state lawmakers to reach agreement by March 15 on a bill that would completely repeal the smoking ban.
DeSantis has repeatedly said the ban defies the will of the voters who overwhelmingly adopted the measure in 2016 and wants the ban overturned. If legislators didn’t meet the March 15 deadline, DeSantis had vowed to drop the state’s appeal of a court decision that ruled the ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional, putting an end to the matter once and for all.
The Senate is expected to take up the compromise package when it goes into session Thursday afternoon. The plan is for the Senate to pass the bill and send it to the House, which will pass the measure next week and sending it on to the governor by the March 15 deadline that DeSantis had set.