Just two days before a deadline set by Governor Ron DeSantis, the Florida House on Wednesday voted 101-11 to pass a bill that would allow patients to smoke medical marijuana.
Senate Bill 182 is the first measure heading to the Governor’s desk in the 60-day legislative session, and he is expected to sign it into law. The Senate last week went along with DeSantis' demand to eliminate a ban on smokable marijuana.
“I think the Florida voters who voted for that wanted them to have access to medical marijuana under the supervision of a physician,” said DeSantis in January. “Whether they have to smoke it or not, who am I to judge that? I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved.”
House bill sponsor Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero) says the quick legislative action is due to DeSantis’ threat to drop the state’s appeal of a court decision, which found the smoking prohibition violates a constitutional amendment which broadly legalized medical marijuana.
“The governor was clear that there was a deadline that he wanted to see action from the legislature, said Rodrigues. “Both the House and the Senate agreed that the proper way to respond to this was for the legislature to address it via legislation, rather than just yielding it to the courts and to a judicial decision.”
Voters approved medical marijuana in 2016, but smokable forms of the plant were outlawed in a bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2017. The state was sued over the issue, and a judge declared the ban unconstitutional. Scott, now a Republican U.S. senator, appealed the ruling.
“This is a difficult issue and I think you’re going to have people on both sides; some that are happy now that this is available to them, [and] I know there’s a few that [feel] we didn’t go far enough,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva.
Oliva, who runs a cigar manufacturing firm, has said he couldn’t fathom how drawing smoke into one’s lungs could be therapeutic. He says the jury is still out.
“I don’t know and we don’t have the data; hopefully we will in the coming years to show if there truly are benefits to consuming this medicine in this fashion,” Oliva said. “I personally don’t believe that there probably is, and there might be some detrimental effects as a result of that. Which is why I had reservations about that [and] I still have them now.”
The legislation would allow patients to buy up to two and a half ounces of medical pot during a 35-day period from state-authorized operators and possess up to four ounces at any given time. Smoking medical cannabis would be banned in public places. And patients under age 18 would be allowed to smoke the treatment only if they are terminally ill and have a second opinion from a board-certified pediatrician.
State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) says the bill is not perfect, but he feels it’s much better than original medical marijuana legislation passed two years ago that banned smokable cannabis.
“There are some hurdles that need to be overcome; there is a little bit of government red tape that I would prefer not be there,” said Smith. “But, at least we are moving in the right direction. I support this legislation so that cannabis patients and their doctors can decide whether it is right for them to smoke their medicine.”
It’s unclear how long it will take for smokable pot to become available to patients. State health officials still have to craft rules regulating smokable marijuana.