One of the most talked about issues in the 2017 session is the implementation of Amendment 2, legalizing medical marijuana. Since Floridians voted to approve the amendment with over 71% support, Tallahassee insiders and politicians has been scrambling to meet the implementation deadlines set forth in the constitution, which requires rules governing the system to be written by July of this year and put into effect by October.
A recent poll released by Smart Medicine for Florida, a relatively new group advocating for a conservative approach to medical marijuana, said that Floridians – by a 14% margin – believe the state is acting too slowly on medical marijuana.
And the proponents of the amendment have likewise leveled significant criticism at the Florida House of Representatives in particular. Ben Pollara, one of the authors of Amendment 2 and John Morgan’s alter ego during the 2014 and 2016 campaigns, has been firing off angry emails to his list, accusing the House of siding with opponents like former Ambassador Mel Sembler and the Drug Free America foundation over the will of voters.
I asked House Speaker Richard Corcoran what he thought of those critiques during a recent interview in his Capitol offices.
“I think we are following the will of the voters and trying to implement medical marijuana to fulfill the voters’ wishes, and to also make sure its a law that is on the books that is reflective of their will and what was asked for.”
The Speaker concluded by saying that he thinks, “we will get there, its getting closer and closer.”
But closer to what, asks Pollara.
“I’ve said many times now that HB 1397 (the House proposal, introduced by one of Corcoran’s deputies, Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues) was written for the less than 29% of Floridians who opposed medical marijuana.”
Pollara and other advocates point to the legislation’s ban on the most common forms of consuming marijuana – smoking, eating and vaporizing – as well as the fact the law does not authorize any new marijuana growers until there are 150,000 patients in the state registry as evidence of HB 1397’s failure to serve the popular will.
Pollara said that SB 406, the Senate bill introduced by Rob Bradley and forwarded out of its first committee on Monday, was in fact, “a proposal that respects the constitution and the 71% who voted ‘yes’ last fall.”
SB 406 was amended significantly in the Health Policy committee this week. Included in the changes was a provision to issue 5 new licenses to grow and sell marijuana by October, and a phasing in of 4 additional licenses for every 75,000 patients added to the registry. Pollara was quick to note that while HB 1397 was similarly moved out of its first committee – the Health Quality subcommittee which met last week – it moved forward with no amendments.
Richard Corcoran is a pretty blunt, straightforward guy with a strong command of his chamber, so if he says “we will get there”, you can pretty much take that to the bank. But proponents’ basic question still stands: we may be getting closer, but to what?