A new bill that would allow smoking of medical marijuana in the form of pre-rolled filtered cigarettes from dispensaries was heard Tuesday in the Florida House’s Health and Human Services Committee.
The bill passed with only two no-votes, and will be moving on to the appropriations committee.
The clock is ticking on the deadline Gov. Ron DeSantis set for the Legislature to amend Florida law and allow smoking of medical marijuana. If legislators don’t by March 15 — 10 days after the start of the annual session — the governor said he will do so with litigation.
While the Senate has two bills moving through committee, this is the first stab at legislation the House has taken so far.
Committee Chair Ray Rodrigues said the bill would make for a safer medical marijuana experience than what would become legal if DeSantis withdrew from the smoking ban lawsuits.
“If you look at Judge [Karen] Gievers’ order, what we’d be facing is the law of the wild west,” the Estero Republican said. “We believe there should be guardrails, so we reconvened.”
In 2016, about 71 percent of Floridians who voted were in favor of a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. While the 2017 bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott legalized access to the drug in pill, oil, edible and vape form, it made smoking it illegal.
The provision, commonly referred to as the “smoking ban,” was challenged in circuit court in July 2017. In its complaint, People United for Medical Marijuana, Inc., argued the smoking ban altered the definition of “marijuana” and by banning smoking in public, implicitly authorized smoking marijuana in a private place.
Current law prohibits possession or use of medical marijuana in a form for smoking except for flower in a sealed, tamper-proof receptacle for vaping. The law also prohibits the use of medical marijuana in public, except for the use of low-THC marijuana.
In addition to making smoking the medicine legal, the committee bill also establishes an approval process for doctors who want to certify smoking as a route of administration for patients.
Except for terminally ill patients, the bill requires the state Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine to create a panel to review and approve or deny doctors’ requests to certify smoking as a route of administration for patients.
The bill also creates a new consortium for medical marijuana clinical research within the University of Florida, which will ideally create a plan that includes research on clinical outcomes, dosing, efficacy and side effects.
“With most medicine, the research would occur and then based upon the research the doctors would prepare the practice standards and implement,” said Rodrigues, the committee chair who proposed the bill. “We will move forward, and it will be between the doctor and the patient whether there is smoking.”
While a new consortium would be created, the bill would also dissolve an existing coalition for medical marijuana research at Moffitt Cancer Center.
Dr. Thomas Sellers, the center director of Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, said while their research group has been active and committed, a total lack of funding meant they were only able to conduct two small studies over the course of six months.
“We were supposed to be supported through funding from the state from fees from the growers,” Sellers said. “We are limited in terms of what we can do. We are very conservative in what we recommend our physicians to do. There’s a lot of constraints the board is facing.”
Freshman Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Clay Yarborough, who voted no, said he is worried about the long-term and secondhand effects of smoking medical marijuana.
“Bronchitis, lung issues, all these other things that are a big concern to me,” he said. “We don’t want to restrict what people are doing in their homes, but if they go out and have effects on other people … that’s a concern and we have to be mindful of that moving forward.”
In the Senate, a similar bill also made progress.
Sen. Jeff Brandes’ SB 182, legalizes smoking medical marijuana, allows medical marijuana treatment centers to sell products like pipes, bongs or rolling papers and requires that patients under 18 can only smoke if the doctor and a second, unrelated physician say it’s the only good means of administering the drug.
The bill, which was heard in the Health Policy Committee last week, reported favorably in the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
Its next and final stop will be in the Senate Rules Committee next Wednesday.
Senators last week took issue with the amendment requiring a second opinion, saying it creates an unnecessary cost for patients, who are already paying out-of-pocket for treatment.
Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson, of Jacksonville, voiced a similar argument.
“We have passed an amendment for medicinal purposes that many people cannot access,” she said. “Being poor should not bar them from the same kind of relief that those with the means have.”
Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, agreed with Gibson, saying this bill is “about freedom.” He said the bill’s amendment goes “too far.”
“There’s no legitimate reason for the government to intrude on that personal decision,” he said. “It has a detrimental effect on your ability to exercise your right to access this good form of medicine.”