When Florida overwhelmingly voted to approve medical marijuana last November, it's a fair bet most of the millions of voters who checked yes on Amendment 2 imagined a future in which sick patients would be free to roll up a joint to smoke away their pain in peace.
Tallahassee isn't interested in that particular future, though. After spending months trying to sabotage medical marijuana by awarding rights to a tiny cartel of politically connected license-holders, legislators today will likely approve rules that outright ban smokable pot.
That fact has infuriated Amendment 2 supporters, including John Morgan, the Tampa superlawyer who bankrolled the legislation. Morgan is already promising a lawsuit if the bill passes as written today.
"I will be suing the state to allow smoke," Morgan writes in a short post on Medium. "It was part of my amendment."
The new rules were hashed out yesterday by House and Senate committees that returned to Tally for a special session after medical marijuana and the state budget stalled during the regular session. The full House and Senate will still have to approve the rules today, but the prospects look good.
The legislators did make a little progress on the other major problem with Florida's medical marijuana industry: the baked-in cartel system that helped tank the first debate on medical pot.
With millions of patients soon to be eligible for the drug, the state to date has granted only seven licenses to companies to grow and sell weed. That number is comically tiny. Massachusetts, with barely a fourth of Florida's population, will soon have hundreds of licensed growers; Colorado has more than 500.
But those seven companies that already have their foot in the door have spent hundreds of thousands lobbying in Tallahassee this year to prevent anyone else from edging into their virtual monopoly.
Lawmakers finally budged on that problem in the rules approved in committee yesterday. They'll call for ten more licenses to be handed out, with one guaranteed to go to a black-owned farm and two mandated for citrus growers; the bill would also cap the number of dispensaries each company can operate at 25.
Seventeen companies is still an absurdly small number for a state as large as Florida. But some advocates praised that piece of the bill for at least making progress.
"While it makes my head hurt that five new [medical marijuana] licenses are literally going to the losers of the previous process, this bill would have the effect of breaking up the cartel system and beginning to provide true access to patients," says Ben Pollara, head of United for Care, which spearheaded Florida's successful medical marijuana campaign.
But almost everyone involved in Amendment 2 agrees the ban on smokable pot is insane. Tally's bill would allow vaping, pills, and tinctures, but why not smoke? Legislators tried to cast it as a health issue.
“Breathing in soot, breathing in ash, carries a definite detriment, which we didn't want to extend to medical marijuana,” Rep. Cary Pigman told a local TV station. It's worth noting that Pigman had to give up his seat on a House health subcommittee earlier this year after getting popped for drunk driving.
Pollara says that argument is nonsense and banning smokable medical pot clearly goes against the wishes of voters.
"If you've ever met someone who hears the word 'marijuana' and doesn't immediately think of the green, leafy stuff that you smoke, let me know. I've yet to meet one," Pollara says in a text message, adding Morgan's hashtag on the issue: "#NoSmokeIsAJoke."
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