Smokable marijuana only 1st step toward affordability

Lawmakers anticipate more changes to distribution system in Florida

By Jake Stofan - Tallahassee corespondent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The bill allowing patients to smoke medical marijuana is on the governor’s desk, but patient access and affordability are still major issues plaguing the industry. 

Some lawmakers believe the entire distribution system needs to be changed.

Patients will be able to smoke their medical marijuana once Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the bill and agencies develop and implement rules, likely by July 1. 

But State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said there’s still more work to be done.

“There's sick patients out there right now who have not enrolled in the legal medical cannabis process or program," Smith said. "They are still buying cannabis on the street illegally because the legal way is too expensive."

Part of the cost patients face includes doctors visits every 210 days, plus $75 license renewals every year.

Loosening the burden on patients is one possibility, but Jeff Sharkey, with the Medical Marijuana Business Association, said the best solution is to create more competition in the marketplace.

“Insurance companies don't offer co-pay assistance with the doctor visitation, with the medicine itself,” Sharkey said.

Availability is limited because of a lack of licensed growers; there are only 14 in the state. 

By law, they have to control every aspect of the process from seed to sale, but doing away with the vertically integrated system would allow for more businesses to compete.

“If you want to be a retailer, if you want to be a processor, an extractor, you can do that with a cultivator,” Sharkey said.

Lawmakers believe some changes will be made to the marijuana distribution system this year, but they also believe it will be a multi-year effort.

There is also a legislative push to make it easier for banks to back medical marijuana companies. 

Currently, the industry is almost completely cash only.

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