TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Pointing to research showing that prolonged use of marijuana can have harmful effects on adolescents, the Florida House on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would place a 10 percent limit on the amount of euphoria-inducing THC in medical marijuana for patients under age 21.
House members backed a move by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, to add the medical-marijuana amendment to a broad Department of Health legislative package (HB 713).
While the THC cap is a priority for House leaders, including Speaker José Oliva, the Senate has balked at the plan.
During debate on the proposal Thursday, Rodrigues, who has shepherded the House’s medical-marijuana legislation for years, said limits on the strength of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, are necessary to protect developing brains.
“Those who say cannabis has no effect on the developing brain are science deniers,” he said.
But Democrats objected to the proposed cap, saying it would interfere with patients’ relationships with doctors and is contrary to a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida.
“We’ve made a decision that this is a legal product for medical purposes. Having made that decision, what dosage is appropriate is something that should be left to the people who are best equipped to make that decision, and members, that is not us,” said Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura.
Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican who is a dermatologist, said research proves that adolescents may be subject to “lasting damage” from cannabis use.
“What harm does it do for us as a state to go slow?” Massullo, who supports medical marijuana, said. “For us to not take this step is to put our youth at risk.”
Rodrigues’ amendment also would require the state’s medical-marijuana license holders to sell products or lose their licenses. Lawmakers are frustrated because some medical marijuana firms have failed to launch operations while they seek to sell their licenses, which have sold for upwards of $50 million.
In addition, Rodrigues’ amendment would create a new testing requirement for smokable marijuana, among other things.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, argued that the state would be “jumping the gun” with the THC cap, pointing out that Thursday was the first time representatives were learning about the proposal, which had not been vetted by committees.
Rodrigues’ amendment “does harm” to patients by taking away access and “pushes them into the black market,” Smith said.
The amendment was approved on a voice vote, and the House could pass the overall bill as soon as Friday.
Senate President Bill Galvano indicated that his chamber would not agree to such a plan, after Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, was forced to withdraw a similar amendment during a Rules Committee meeting Tuesday. Harrell dropped the amendment after receiving bipartisan pushback.
Galvano, R-Bradenton, told reporters he had been interested in how the THC cap would play out in the committee.
“Obviously there was no appetite for that in the Senate,” he said Tuesday.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.