Floridians can expect the Legislature to ponder expanding the state’s new medical marijuana law to allow for more potent marijuana that would treat other illnesses, but lawmakers might first wait to carry out the statute the state already has.
Last year the Legislature approved a law that allows non-euphoric marijuana for Floridians who suffer from epilepsy, cancer and a handful of other ailments that cause severe seizures or spasms.
But that law, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, has bogged down in rule-writing, special-interest disputes, challenges and court orders. The state Department of Health still needs to determine how to select, license and regulate private companies to grow and process the low-THC medical marijuana and produce and sell the products.
A rule-making hearing set for early February could get it going, or could lead to more delays. Key lawmakers say they are waiting to see if they need to step in again.
State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, who championed the so-called “Charlotte’s Web” law last year, said Monday he expects the Department of Health hearing will sort out the disputed details so that patients can be helped soon.
Gaetz and some other state lawmakers said they expect to expand the law eventually to include higher-THC marijuana and more patient groups — but not yet.
“I’d like to take one or two spins around the block with the training wheels on before we take them off,” Gaetz said.
State Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, agreed.
If the rules-making committee hearing does not go well, “There’s still enough time for us to act before the end of this session,” he said.
Even so, medical-marijuana advocates are lobbying to get the law expanded to possibly allow extracts made from higher-THC marijuana. Such a treatment would get users high, but they are believed to be more effective for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia and other ailments.
Among those groups is United For Care, which campaigned unsuccessfully last year for a state constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana broadly.
The organization, chaired by Orlando attorney John Morgan, got approval last week for new petitions so it can seek to put the issue back on the ballot in 2016. But the group also is lobbying the Legislature to broaden the law before then, with a draft bill that would largely enact its Amendment 2.
State Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Sunrise, said she also hopes the hearings in February can straighten out the licensing issues for low-THC marijuana products. But she also said there are problems that probably cannot be fixed through the those meetings.
Chief among them, she said, is that the low-THC medicinal marijuana oil may wind up being expensive to produce. The number of epileptic patients and other eligible users is small, which could result in high costs for the treatment that cannot be covered by health insurance, she said.
She intends to push for an expansion this spring to make medical marijuana available to more people and reduce per-patient costs.
United For Care director Ben Pollara said his group’s representatives are getting encouraging feedback from lawmakers about expanding the law. He pointed out that Amendment 2 barely missed approval last November, when 58 percent of voters said yes to it. It needed 60 percent for approval.