In an all together disappointing but unsurprising move, the Florida Legislature closed its 2017 session without making a decision to put a medical marijuana bill into effect. While somewhat controversial, Floridians voted overwhelmingly last November in favor of medical marijuana. In spite of its popularity, Florida lawmakers didn’t embrace it in case it might hurt them politically (i.e. soft on drugs/crime, etc.)
A dispute over technical parts of the bill became too much for negotiators to overcome. At issue were restrictions on growers and dispensaries, a topic important to those who wanted a piece of what experts say could become a $1 billion a year market.
Now, the issue will become the problem of Florida’s Department of Health. The state department will have to write rules by July 3 that will allow patients with debilitating illnesses to legally use to medical marijuana.
Essentially, the elected officials abdicated their responsibility to the public and kicked this particular can down the road. While it is a complex issue that involves both state and federal laws, the people of Florida expected their elected officials to deal with this in session and not leave it to the Department of Health to clean up their mess.
The Department of Health has two months to turn placeholder rules it published in January into a thriving medical marijuana market that could grow to hundreds of thousands of patients.
Department of Health officials held five public hearings around the state, but they appeared to be waiting for lawmakers to act. “We welcome that,” Christian Bax, who runs the department’s medical marijuana office, told lawmakers in January.
The Department of Health rules essentially gave the whole medical marijuana marketplace to the seven growers who have already been licensed to sell low-THC cannabis to patients with severe epilepsy and cancer and full-strength marijuana to terminal patients.
“It would have been preferable for the Legislature to be the one to set the basic framework for how it’s implemented,” said Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “In the absence of that, I think we’ll have to rely on the Department of Health to implement it in a fair way, to make sure that there’s access.”
This is just a bad situation for those who are most vulnerable in our communities and it’s something that should have been handled by our elected officials. If they aren’t courageous enough to handle these types of issues, why did we elect them in the first place.