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Medical marijuana standards facing scrutiny, upheaval

by | Feb 22, 2021


Members of the Joint Committee on Medical Marijuana met Thursday to begin developing the practice standards that Florida-licensed physicians must follow when ordering smokable pot. And they weren’t happy.

The panel is composed of members of the Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine. Joint committee member Jorge Lopez, a physician from Maitland, said smoking is toxic and that the medical boards shouldn’t be in a position of condoning the behavior.

But committee chairwoman Sandra Schwemmer tried to assuage the concerns by noting that the boards could use the rules to discipline rogue doctors who don’t abide by the standards that ultimately are adopted.

And Ed Tellechea, who serves as the Board of Medicine’s general counsel, told committee members that they are required to follow the Legislature’s direction and pass the rules. Tellechea suggested that the boards rely on rules for ordering controlled substances as a template for the medical marijuana rules, and modify them as appropriate.

The Joint Committee on Medical Marijuana is scheduled to meet again March 11 and April 15 in an attempt to finalize the rules in time for a July 1 deadline mandated by the Legislature.

Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that broadly legalized medical marijuana. The Legislature in 2017 passed a law to implement the amendment but banned smoking medical marijuana. The ban was successfully challenged in circuit court, but then-Gov. Rick Scott’s administration appealed the decision.

Shortly after getting elected in November 2018, new Governor Ron DeSantis did a turnabout from his predecessor and came out in support of smoking medical marijuana. After taking office in 2019, the governor gave lawmakers a deadline to pass a bill that did away with the smoking ban. The  bill, which DeSantis signed into law on March 18, 2019, also mandated that the medical boards by July 1, 2021 adopt rules for physicians to follow when ordering smokable marijuana for their patients.

As members of the joint committee grapple with the rules, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, dropped a medical-marijuana bombshell.

Simpson told reporters on Thursday that the Florida Senate may be willing to place a cap on the amount of allowable euphoria-inducing THC in medical-marijuana products, including whole flower that is smoked.

The Senate until now has opposed the THC caps. But the makeup of the Florida Senate changed after the November 2020 elections, including the election of Estero Republican Ray Rodrigues. As a House member, Rodgrigues unsuccessfully pushed for THC caps to be included in the 2019 legislation that authorized smoking as a route of administration for medical marijuana.

“I think we have a lot of senators that would support an idea like that,” Simpson said of the caps. “I do think there’s a lot of support for that type of limit.”

Florida for Care, the nonprofit organization affiliated with a voter-approved 2016 constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana, launched an online petition to garner support to oppose the THC caps.

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