By Gil Smart
Once upon a time — actually it was only four months ago — Floridians overwhelmingly passed Amendment 2, writing medical marijuana into the state constitution.
If you have a "debilitating medical condition," utilizing medical marijuana now is your right.
But a whole lot of elected officials seem to think this right is wrong.
The Legislature is in the process of writing rules to govern how you can get your medical marijuana, from whom, and what form it will take. But even a cursory glance at the proposals suggests they're going to screw it up, crafting restrictions that make it hard for people to get the medication and inhibiting the growth of the industry.
So then you have to ask yourself: Is this what we voted for?
In the House, the sole proposal comes from Majority Leader Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers. Marijuana advocates say it seems crafted to please those who voted against medical marijuana rather than those who voted for it.
Among other provisions, House Bill 1397 would ban smoking, vaping or marijuana edibles like brownies or cookies. Rodrigues appears to worry being too loose with the regulations could open the door to recreational marijuana. While Floridians backed medical pot, polls have shown less than half the state's voters back recreational pot, he said during a radio interview last week.
"There were definitely people who believed that they were voting to smoke it,” Rodrigues said. “However, I do not believe that is the majority of the people. Clearly, the majority of the people believed they were voting for medical marijuana, and as long as they get the benefits from medical marijuana, the way that it is administered is irrelevant."
So let people get marijuana in pill or suppository form, but if you let them smoke it, next thing you know the whole state turns into one big Cheech and Chong movie.
Activists also are incensed the Rodrigues plan retains the existing distribution model, requiring marijuana to be grown, processed and sold by the same provider.
Michael Patterson, CEO of Melbourne-based U.S. Cannabis Pharmaceutical Research and Development calls this system "the cartel."
"It's called vertical integration; right now in Florida, you cannot grow or sell separately," he said. "The problem with that model is it's too restrictive," limiting competition and potentially driving up prices.
By contrast, Patterson prefers a bill introduced in the state Senate by Sen. Jeff Brandes. One of five Senate proposals, the Brandes bill would allow businesses to grow, process or sell medical marijuana without having to do all of those things — no "vertical integration" required.
The bill would permit a city or county to ban retail outlets, and otherwise limits sellers to one dispensary per 25,000 county residents. So Martin County, with roughly 150,000 residents, could have up to six dispensaries; St. Lucie County, with roughly twice as many people, could have up to 12.
Advocates see fatal flaws in each of the other four Senate proposals.
Sen. Denise Grimsley's bill would prohibit local officials from banning dispensaries, but would keep the business of medical marijuana entirely in the hands of the seven current providers.
A bill from state Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, would permit edibles but ban smoking, and mandate only nurseries in business for 30 years could become growers.
Two other plans — one sponsored by state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the other sponsored by state Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami — would allow only companies capable of growing large quantities of marijuana to sell it.
There is, Bradley said last week, "a lot of talk about the current system we have … being a cartel and we need a free market approach. This is not the selling of lawn mowers or office supplies. This is very different.”
Sure. But the question is: What, exactly, are legislators trying to achieve?
Are they trying to fulfill voters' wishes? Or are they trying to thwart them, believing Floridians didn't really grasp the implications of what they voted for?
One thing's for sure: Amendment 2 passed in a landslide. But it settled nothing.
"If you voted for Amendment 2 and thought you were done," Patterson said, "think again."