Florida legalized medical cannabis in 2016, but recent legislative moves could expand access to marijuana even further. Several proposed bills await this year’s legislative session. The bills range from changes to current medical cannabis rules to measures to legalize recreational marijuana – even though the latter is considered a longshot.
There is a plan to put the prospect of recreational marijuana use before voters in 2022, backed by The Make It Legal advocacy group. The measure requires 766,000 signatures, and the group is almost 75% there. In the past, the state legislature has been opposed to legalizing recreational use of the substance. Still, one Republican state senator has sponsored a bill to make cannabis legal for people over 21. Sen. Jeff Brandes from central Florida believes the government should have the first opportunity to pass these laws, stating “if the Legislature fails to act, then the people should be able to act to pass it via constitutional amendment.”
For the medical marijuana community, the proposed legislation regarding recreational marijuana represents a further mainstream acceptance and an easier future in its medical capacity. Over a dozen pieces of legislation have been introduced for debate during the Legislature’s next session, beginning on March 2, 2021. The legislation is grouped into three basic categories: reforming the current medical marijuana system, legalizing recreational use, and eliminating criminal penalties for specific marijuana-related offenses.
Some legislators maintain that additional research is required to determine the safety and side effects of cannabis before considering expanding access to it. Republican Rep. Thad Altman went on record with his contention that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval should be a precursor to any legislation. For his part, Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley took a different view. His warning that marijuana may be the “snake oil of our time” proves that there is still a long way to go to educate the population as to the many benefits of medical cannabis.
Proposed Changes to the Medical Cannabis Law
The proposed reforms to the medical marijuana system attempt to address criticism that medical cannabis does not reach those who genuinely need it. Additional controversy swirled around the requirement that medical marijuana treatment centers cultivate, process, and dispense medical marijuana in-house. Brandes nicknamed the system “essentially a state-sanctioned cartel.”
Select bills would establish a licensing system for retail medical marijuana facilities and eliminate the in-house requirement. The new legislation would permit licensed retail facilities to sign contracts with treatment centers. Other bills would provide for the following:
- Establish separate licensing for the retail, transportation, and cultivation of marijuana
- Put safety guidelines in place for those enterprises, and allow municipalities to limit the number of facilities in their area of jurisdiction
- Provide protection from discrimination to state employees and job applicants who use medical marijuana
- Increase limits on the amount of medical marijuana physicians can issue and the amount disabled patients can have access to for treatment
While another group of bills is not explicitly targeted towards medical marijuana, they may affect the normalization of cannabis for medicinal treatment. This set of bills are written to:
- Remove many criminal penalties
- Leave room for the resentencing of marijuana-related offenses
- Permit the suppression of marijuana crime records so that these records do not disproportionately affect an individual’s residential or employment opportunities in the future
If criminal penalties are removed, and recreational marijuana is approved, the medical cannabis market will likely thrive. With the stigma of marijuana reduced, more people are likely to consider cannabis as a viable medical treatment with significant benefits.
Dr. Daniel P. Stein of Neurology of Cannabis provides his patients with expert medical marijuana treatment options. For more than 25 years, Dr. Stein has used his medical training in neurology to help patients discover greater health and well-being.