TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Eligible patients would not have to wait 90 days to get medical marijuana if doctors recommend the treatment, under a compromise measure ready for a House vote just days before next Friday's end of the annual legislative session.
The measure, proposed by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, brings the House closer in line with the Senate's approach to carrying out a November constitutional amendment that legalized marijuana for patients with a broad swath of debilitating medical conditions.
The House modified the bill (HB 1397) on Friday, doing away with the 90-day requirement and allowing vaporizing and edibles as methods of consuming pot products, something proponents of the constitutional amendment had pushed. A House vote could come as soon as Tuesday.
Rodrigues said he made the changes based on testimony provided during committee hearings on the legislation.
"We have listened, and we have worked hard to create a patient-centered process," Rodrigues, R-Estero said.
The House also backed down on requiring doctors to re-certify patients every three months, and instead would allow patients to obtain 30-week supplies of marijuana products. The Senate would only require patients to get re-certified annually.
In addition, the House plan would allow the Department of Health to contract with a vendor to provide patient identification cards. Rodrigues said he included the option after hearing that patients were encountering delays in getting the cards, which will be required to obtain medical marijuana products later this year.
"Our goal is that it's … as easy as it is to get your hunting or your fishing license," Rodrigues said during a discussion of the bill Friday on the House floor.
The House and Senate remain divided on how many medical marijuana operators should be added to the state's seven “dispensing organizations” now licensed to grow, process and dispense cannabis products throughout Florida.
The Senate bill (SB 406) would require five new licenses by November, including one for a member of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, and increase the number of licenses as the number of patients registered for the treatment in a statewide database increases.
The House proposal would only add one license later this year, with it going to a black farmer. The black farmers have been singled out because none of them were eligible to apply for a license when the state first legalized non-euphoric marijuana in 2014.
To be eligible, black farmers would need to have been part of class-action lawsuits focused on discriminatory lending practices by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under the proposals.
Both chambers would scrap an element of the 2014 law that required nurseries to have been in business for at least 30 years in Florida to be eligible to apply for licenses to grow marijuana, something the black farmers maintained shut them out.
Under the House plan modified Friday, citrus processing plants would also be eligible to apply for licenses
Also, once 150,000 patients are entered into the statewide registry, health officials would have to give out five new licenses to the applicants who were runners-up when applications were evaluated two years ago.
"We've made significant progress. The House bill today reflects a lot of our discussions. They've moved on the 90-day waiting period. They've moved on edibles, as well as vaping. So I feel really good about where we are," Senate bill sponsor Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said late Friday.