Broward County

Have something to say about medical marijuana rules? This workshop is your chance

A close-up of a flowering marijuana plant in the production room of Modern Health Concepts’ greenhouse in Southwest Miami-Dade.
A close-up of a flowering marijuana plant in the production room of Modern Health Concepts’ greenhouse in Southwest Miami-Dade.

The Florida Department of Health is touring the state this week to gauge the reception of its proposed guidelines for the rollout of an expanded medical marijuana program following the November passage of Amendment 2.

Public workshops begin Monday in Jacksonville, continue in Fort Lauderdale Tuesday morning and in Tampa and Orlando on Wednesday before culminating in Tallahassee on Thursday. They’re scheduled amid criticism that the state seems inclined to limit the availability of marijuana, but also amid concerns about the sudden introduction of a medication that remains an illicit drug under federal law.

Both the department and industry insiders predict substantial turnouts.

We expect significant participation.

Mara Gambineri, Florida Department of Health spokeswoman

“We expect significant participation. We’ve already received more than 450 written comments” in the little more than two weeks since the proposed rules were released, said Mara Gambineri, a spokeswoman for the department, which is also soliciting input online. “We will compile and review all stakeholder input and incorporate ideas as we proceed in the next steps of the rule-making process.”

Amendment 2, which passed in November with more than 71 percent support and went into effect Jan. 3, seeks to expand marijuana access to patients with a wide variety of conditions and ailments, and allows for the expansion of the state’s nascent growing and distributing industry. It requires the Department of Health to come up with procedures by early July.

The proposed rules issued last month by the department, however, would squeeze the medical cannabis expansion into an existing, limited system created for the terminally ill and people suffering from chronic seizures and spasms. The seven companies currently licensed to grow and process marijuana would keep their grip on the market, and the expanded number of eligible patient conditions would be limited to a list of 10, barring rulings by the state Board of Medicine.

Medical marijuana advocates, including the engineers of the amendment, say the proposed rules dismiss requirements of Amendment 2. Florida for Care, the group that pushed the amendment during the election, is now campaigning to generate turnout for the department’s meetings.

“As the Department of Health is moving to implement Amendment 2 they are choosing to ignore and disregard elements that we all supported that fail to give those suffering the access they deserve,” chairman Ben Pollara wrote last week in an email blast.

On the other hand, some want the state to consider additional regulations. Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman has introduced a resolution that would urge Tallahassee to create rules tightly regulating pesticide usage, quality control, and security requirements for marijuana-based businesses that in many cases are cash-only due to the reluctance of banks to handle their accounts. Health department regulations go down to the labeling of medications and pill bottle designs.

Still, the department’s rule-making role will be greatly minimized this session as long as the state’s legislative body passes a bill to regulate the amendment.

I don’t think the Department of Health is paid to have courage. They’re paid to enact existing laws.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg

Sen. Jeff Brandes, one of two lawmakers to have filed a medical marijuana bill so far, says it’s up to lawmakers to set the proper parameters. The St. Petersburg Republican filed legislation that would open up the market for competition, reduce red tape for patients, and allow for the smoking of marijuana. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has filed a more conservative bill that would keep a tighter grip over the number and structure of licensed businesses.

“I don’t think the Department of Health is paid to have courage. They’re paid to enact existing laws,” Brandes said last week during a visit to Miami Beach.

Pollara hopes the Department of Health will get the bulk of its direction from the Legislature. But he said the hearings and department’s rule-making process remain crucial.

“There’s always the chance that [lawmakers], for whatever reason, don’t pass anything. If that’s the case, then what the department does is it,” he said. “That’s the law of the land, at least until next session, and for that reason it’s incredibly important.”

If you go

Feb. 6, 2017

▪ When: 2-4 p.m.

▪ Where: Duval County Health Department, 900 University Blvd., North Jacksonville

Feb. 7, 2017

▪ When: 10 a.m.-noon

▪ Where: Broward County Health Department, 780 SW 24th St., Fort Lauderdale

Feb. 8, 2017

▪ When: 9-11 a.m.

▪ Where: Florida Department of Health, Tampa Branch Laboratory, 3602 Spectrum Blvd., Tampa

Feb. 8, 2017

▪ When: 6-8 p.m.

▪ Where: Orange County Health Department, 6102 Lake Ellenor Dr., Orlando

Feb. 9, 2017

▪ When: 4-6 p.m.

▪ Where: Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Room 148, Tallahassee