State Senate's Medical Marijuana Bill Also Bans Smoking Weed, Advocate Threatens to Sue

The campaign to pass Amendment 2, last year's state constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana for patients with illnesses such as cancer and Alzheimer's, was largely bankrolled by one of the wealthiest and most powerful trial lawyers in Florida, John Morgan.

So now that legislators have done their absolute best to trample the will of Florida voters and make lousy new medical pot rules, Morgan is threatening to sue the state. Earlier this week, the state House passed a bill that bans medical patients from smoking marijuana. And late last night, the Senate passed amendments to that measure — that also ban smoking pot if you're sick.

If that provision ends up getting signed into law, Morgan says, he'll file suit against the State of Florida.

"I’ve got people preparing to give me the best form, style, and way we’ll formulate this lawsuit," Morgan tells New Times. "But I can’t do anything until I see it."

For now, the Legislature appears to be consumed by infighting over the bill and could very well end the legislative session without passing anything at all. That, however, would still be grounds for a lawsuit, because Amendment 2 mandates that lawmakers set rules for patients to acquire their constitutionally protected weed.

"What I’m upset about is that, in the amendment, we specifically said that smoking was prohibited in public places," Morgan says. "During the first go-round in 2014, one of the arguments used against me was that people would be smoking in public. So the next time, we said smoking would be prohibited in public places, which means that smoking would be allowed in private homes."

And, he adds, "I think that's very easy for a judge and jury to understand."

But it's clear from both versions of the bill that the state's Republican-dominated Legislature isn't cool with letting voters decide what sorts of marijuana ought to be legal in their own state. With a single day left in the year's legislative session, both chambers in the capitol are in agreement that Floridians can't be trusted to ingest medicinal cannabis for themselves.

The House's measure originally banned smoking, eating, and vaporizing weed, which would have meant that, despite a constitutional amendment legalizing pot for health purposes, Floridians would have been banned from actually ingesting marijuana at all. After outcry from the public, the House backed off and authorized vaping and edibles. The House passed its measure earlier this week, but the Senate came back with edits — and both chambers disagree over how many dispensaries there ought to be throughout the state. (The Senate wants to authorize a greater number than the House.)

The bill also still requires doctors to write formal prescriptions for medical pot — a provision that Ben Pollara, the campaign director for United for Care, which pushed Amendment 2 last year, says would hamstring doctors and the public's right to legal weed.

But the smoking ban remains — and represents a clear attempt on the part of the state to police the ways in which its citizens legally ingest drugs that have been authorized for use as medicine. State Sen. Rob Bradley, a Republican from Suwannee County, reportedly said the Legislature banned smoking because it isn't "healthy," a claim so ludicrous and intellectually dishonest that it deserves a full breakdown:

Yes, smoking marijuana is not particularly good for the lungs. But it is demonstrably safer than smoking tobacco, which remains legal in Florida. Likewise, tons of legal drugs in the state cause considerable harm to the body, from prescription cholesterol medication to opiate painkillers such as oxycodone, fentanyl, and morphine. The Legislature has done next to nothing to stop pharmaceutical companies from pushing drugs like oxycodone but is apparently up in arms because Florida voters decided that medical weed ought to be legal to treat children with bone cancer.

And it bears repeating that opiate prescriptions plummet when medical marijuana use is liberalized in a given state. Doctors in medical marijuana states typically prescribe 265 fewer doses of antidepressants, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety drugs, and a whopping 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers yearly. Sure, patients can still eat or vape weed, but the idea that smoking marijuana is somehow worse for users than, say, regularly taking a statin for cholesterol — which could cause muscle or liver damage or type 2 diabetes — is asinine.

But if there's one word to describe this current crop of legislators, who also voted today to ramp up the War on Drugs in Florida, it's "asinine."

"These lawmakers sit around for 59 days, do nothing, and then do a bunch of spaghetti on the wall on the last day and say, 'That's what you're having for dinner,'" Morgan says.

This post has been updated to include comments from John Morgan.

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