A state Senate bill to legalize medical marijuana in Florida now has a companion in the House thanks to two Republican representatives.
Reps. Greg Steube of Sarasota and John Wood of Winter Haven joined together to sponsor the legislation just a few weeks after Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Pete Republican, filed his bill in the Senate.
Though there's one major difference: the House version specifically mandates that medical marijuana cannot be smoked.
Both bills, HB 683 and SB 528, are substantially identical. Under the proposed law, those suffering form cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, and cachexia would be able to use medical marijuana. Those with persistent pain, nausea, seizures, or muscle spasms would also be eligible for a medical marijuana prescription regardless of the cause, though in those cases other potential treatments would have to be tried and exhausted first.
But the House bill includes the phrase, "The term [medical marijuana] does not include the use or administration of medical-grade marijuana by, or possession of medical-grade marijuana for, smoking." The Senate bill includes no such language. (By the way, New York is currently the only state that has legalized medical marijuana but forbidden it from being smoked).
Perhaps the change was made after the Florida Sheriffs Association came out against Brandes' original Senate bill in a 38-2 vote. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri specifically targeted smokable medical marijuana as a reason for the sheriffs objection in a press conference earlier this month.
"Nobody sits around on a Saturday night with the strobe lights going and the party music going on and says, 'Let's rub this oil on my wrist.' They want to smoke it. It has social value to it," he said. "They'll say that it's the easiest way to absorb it, and the fastest way to absorb it. Well, there are other ways."
Because clearly, strobe lights and party music on a Saturday night are some of the biggest threats to Floridians' safety and well-being. Because obviously the specifics of how to medicate with marijuana should be dictated by out-of-touch sheriffs and not medical professionals.
In turn, Steube specifically mentioned law enforcement concerns in a press release.
"Our job is to ensure that the steps taken to provide medicinal marijuana does not handicap our law enforcement and continues to protect the health, safety and welfare of all Floridians," read the release.
Brandes, meanwhile, has previously indicated he's willing to compromise on his bill, perhaps signaling that the Senate bill also could be rewritten to forbid the smoking of medical marijuana.
The dual bills came after a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medicinal weed narrowly fell short of the 60 percent threshold in last November's election. Many critics of the amendment suggested that, while they weren't necessarily against medical marijuana, the issue would be better handled in the legislature.
With bills sponsored by members of the majority party in each legislative body the bill definitely has a chance to be considered, though whether more conservative Republicans will jump on board remains to be seen. (Both Sen. Brandes and Rep. Steube are under the age of 40.) Perhaps the smoking exemption gives it a better chance of succeeding.
Regardless, mega-lawyer John Morgan, the driving force behind last year's amendment, has promised to try again in 2016.
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