Governor wants ban on smokeable medical pot ended

DeSantis also wants licensing system revisited, calling it a 'cartel'


WINTER PARK, Fla. – Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized the Legislature's implementation of a medical marijuana law and said Thursday that if they don't fix it quickly, he'll take matters into his own hands.

DeSantis wants a new law by mid-March that will end a ban on smokable medical marijuana and loosen limits on treatment center licenses, saying voters spoke clearly when they approved medical marijuana in 2016.

If the Legislature fails to act, DeSantis will drop challenges to lawsuits on both those issues, effectively letting the courts resolve them instead of lawmakers. He said he would prefer not to do that.

"I want to have the elected representatives write the law in a way the people intended, so we'll give them a couple of weeks in session to address the smoking issue, and if they don't do it, we're going to dismiss the case and move on," DeSantis said.

He addressed the media in Winter Park, near Orlando, standing alongside personal injury John Morgan. Morgan led the effort to put the medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot. It was approved by more than 71 percent of voters.

Morgan is also the person who sued the state over the smoking ban, publicizing it with the slogan, "No smoke is a joke."

"What's next is no smoke is no longer a joke. It's a victory for the people of Florida," Morgan said before the press conference. "Litigation should always be the last resort ... Negotiation should be the best resort. That's what we're going to do. We're going to step back a few inches, give them a chance to get it right and if they don't get it right, then they're going to get it another way."

A circuit court judge ruled in May that the smoking ban is unconstitutional, but then-Gov. Rick Scott appealed the decision. DeSantis replaced fellow Republican Scott, who is now a U.S. senator, earlier this month.

DeSantis also said he wants the amended law to address licensing limits that are also subjects of lawsuits.

"They created a cartel, essentially," he said. "That is not good policy, so I'd like them to address that as well."

Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, was instrumental in the creation and passage of the state’s first medical-marijuana law in 2014 that authorized non-euphoric, or low-THC, marijuana, said DeSantis is on the right track.

"It was put into law for some very good policy reasons, but it is starting to get the feel of an issue that we probably need to get past," Bradley said. 

Florida's new Republican legislative leaders, Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker Jose Oliva, said they'll work with DeSantis to amend the law. Galvano said in a news release that implementing the constitutional amendment "has been an ongoing problem mired in complex and protracted legal challenges."

"Governor DeSantis has indicated that he prefers a legislative solution rather than a judicial order to bring the issue of implementation of the amendment to a conclusion. A legislative solution has always been my preferred course of action, and we will certainly honor the Governor's request," Galvano said.

Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer filed a bill to allow smokable medical marijuana shortly after the DeSantis announcement.

"I would like to commend Governor DeSantis for his willingness to lead on this issue where past administrations have showed a lack of courage," Farmer said in a press release.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who campaigned on making medical marijuana more accessible, said she wants quicker action on smokable medical marijuana.

"Every day that medical marijuana in the pure plant form is unavailable to patients, Floridians continue to suffer. This is an issue I've seen firsthand throughout our state and country, and one that touches my family personally," Fried said. "My mother was recently diagnosed with cancer, and she is struggling to find medicine that relieves her suffering."

The annual legislative session begins March 5.