State Politics

Medical marijuana left out of Legislature’s special session, but that may change

Samples of cannabis are tested for its purity inside Modern Health Concepts, a South Florida dispensary for medical marijuana that is producing medicine inside its Redland plant on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2016.
Samples of cannabis are tested for its purity inside Modern Health Concepts, a South Florida dispensary for medical marijuana that is producing medicine inside its Redland plant on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2016. cjuste@miamiherald.com

When Florida lawmakers begin a special session next week, one issue that has support from 71 percent of voters won’t be on their agenda: Medical marijuana.

After failing to pass a bill creating a system for patients to buy medical cannabis, a groundswell of support among lawmakers and activists alike called for a special session.

Now, Gov. Rick Scott has called the Legislature back to the Capitol to rewrite portions of the state budget. But his instructions for the June 7-9 special session do not mention medical marijuana.

Lawmakers intend to add it to their agenda once they’re back in Tallahassee.

But first, they have to reach an agreement on the legislation — something they have been unable to do since talks broke down the final day of the regular session last month.

In a memo to House members, Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, wrote that “this is an issue we believe must be addressed.”

However, behind the scenes, negotiators still haven’t found common ground on the key sticking point: Caps on how many dispensaries each license holder can open. During the regular session, the House wanted no caps but finally proposed a 100-dispensary limit. The Senate pushed for the caps, finally offering a maximum of 15 storefronts per grower.

“In order to have an agreement that both sides can support, there would have to be an effort to find a principled middle ground, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Friday morning at a press conference in Miami.

House leadership has been trying to convince senators to accept an overall statewide cap, rather than limiting each individual grower. While that would prevent a glut of dispensaries, it would not limit the growth of existing license holders that want to control much of the potential $1 billion marijuana market in Florida, at least one of which could be planning to open 50 dispensaries in the next five years.

If they can’t reach agreement, there could be political consequences. Amendment 2 — which lets patients with conditions like cancer, PTSD and HIV/AIDS buy and use the drug — won more votes than either presidential candidate in 2016. Even in 2014, when it failed to gain the required 60 percent of the vote, it had support from more than half of voters.

“I think folks expected when the election happened that this would get done,” said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care and one of the forces behind Amendment 2. “We voted twice and we’ve gone through an entire legislative session, and now they’re coming back for a special session that possibly does not include medical marijuana. The average person is pulling their hair out about this.”

Negotiations have been done mostly in secret among Negron, Corcoran and key allies: Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and House Rules and Policy chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. Among rank-and-file lawmakers, though, there is support for getting something done.

“This is one of the most important things that we need to accomplish this year,” Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said. “This is what our constituents expect."

Herald/Times staff writers Patricia Mazzei and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report from Miami

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