Medical marijuana bill headed back to Florida Senate floor

- A medical marijuana bill is headed back to the floor of the Florida Senate after being approved in the rules committee Monday.

The bill (SB 460) was debated on the Senate floor last week but was referred back to committee because of the number of late amendments sought.

When Sen. Rob Bradley introduced the bill in October, he wanted to expand the Right to Try Act to allow terminally ill patients to use nonsmokable marijuana of all strengths and doses. However, the Republican from Fleming Island has added regulations to resolve issues that have come up since the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act signed by Gov. Rick Scott two years ago.

Marijuana high in cannabidiol but low in tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the compound that produces a euphoric high, was supposed to be available to families with children suffering from epilepsy at the beginning of 2015 but numerous issues have arisen in the licensing process.

"Money has affected this process. That's why, two years later, product has not been delivered to families. For me, this is about finishing the job," Bradley said.

The bill includes regulations on where medical marijuana can be used along with requiring doctors to treat patients for more than three months before prescribing marijuana. According to a Department of Health spokeswoman, 94 doctors have completed the mandated course to prescribe medical marijuana.

It also adds regulations for dispensing organizations, including increasing security procedures, packaging and drug testing of employees. The bill grants the Department of Health the authority for unannounced inspections twice a year.

Three dispensary licenses will be added once there are 250,000 patients. One of those additional licenses will be issued to a minority farmer. It also eliminates the qualification that a nursery has to have been in business for 30 years.

The five distributing organizations were named in late November, but challenges to their licenses are pending before the Division of Administrative Hearings. Costa Nursery in the southeast region is the only dispensary not facing any challenges.

On Friday, an administrative judge ruled that the three-person panel from the Office of Compassionate Use wrongly rejected the application of Gainesville's San Felasco Nurseries because one of the employees should not have failed a background screening. DOAH will not begin hearing other challenges until April 11.

Although most senators say they remain frustrated with the bureaucratic mess of the past two years, they want the process to move forward.

"I care more about the many thousands of children who have been waiting for two years while the processes have ground on. It's a way to get relief to those patients," Sen. Don Gaetz said.

Bradley said he is confident that the bill will pass the Senate floor but does expect lengthy debate again when it comes up.

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