House and Senate advance medical pot bills but no compromise in sight
Florida lawmakers are moving full steam ahead to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, but there is still no sign of a compromise between competing House and Senate plans.
The two legislators tasked with putting the voters’ will into effect, Sen. Rob Bradley and House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, say they have begun closed-door talks to bridge large divides between their legislation.
Neither was willing to divulge any information about a compromise Tuesday after their competing bills (SB 406/HB 1397) cleared their second hearings in front of each chamber’s health care budget subcommittee. They must pass one more committee before floor votes.
With the end of the legislative session 17 days away, Tuesday’s votes came with no moves toward a middle ground between the two bills.
“I’m in negotiations with the Senate,” Rodrigues, R-Estero, said. “Those negotiations will continue. We’ll see some policy changes that will occur at the third stop, which is the Health and Human Services Committee.”
What kind of changes? “I have nothing else to add,” he said.
Bradley, R-Fleming Island, is being similarly tight-lipped.
“I want to respect the integrity of our conversations, and so I’ll leave it at that we’re making significant progress on a lot of the issues dealing with patient access and I’m confident that we’re going to come to a conclusion in short order,” he said.
Both men have staked out firm positions on key issues as their negotiations prepare.
Bradley said the Senate won’t consider a bill that provides enough access for a patient base that could expand into the hundreds of thousands in short order. He also said Tuesday that “it’s important to the Senate” that whatever compromise language the chambers agree on includes vaping and edibles.
Rodrigues and his House colleagues are more reluctant to allow patients to vape or eat cannabis, but he has said he would be willing to do so if doctors played a strong role in directing patients what to do. (That policy idea has some activists concerned it could scare off doctors who are legally allowed only to “recommend” marijuana, not prescribe it outright.)
Other sticking points that remain: Requiring patients have a three-month relationship with their doctors, which the Senate bill does not include but the House does, and which many members of the public said was contrary to the will of the voters in Tuesday’s House hearing.
Additionally, the House bill allows for fewer new license holders, while the Senate language now includes more growers but limits the number of dispensaries each is allowed to open.
It’s likely both chambers’ legislation will be considered in committees next week — House Health and Human Services and Senate Appropriations — before facing floor votes in the final week of session.