Bipartisan bill aims to add new rules to Florida’s medical marijuana industry

·3 min read

After years of partisan squabbling over the fate of Florida’s medical marijuana program, Democrats and Republicans are coming together to push what they’re calling a major reform bill.

It could make it a lot harder for Floridians to get their hands on delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products.

Those smokable and edible products have been part of a fast-growing market in Florida. Because of a loophole in the 2018 farm bill passed by Congress, hemp products containing lots of delta-8 aren’t regulated like marijuana products heavy in the psychoactive delta-9 THC compound — even though the compounds are extremely similar. Delta-9 produces the euphoric effect felt by users of medical and recreational marijuana.

But delta-8 is only lightly regulated by the state. The cannabis reform bill, HB 679, sponsored by Reps. Andrew Learned, D-Brandon, and Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, would change that. It also would:

Expand the use of telehealth in medical marijuana.

Restrict medical marijuana advertising practices.

Require cannabis doctors to complete a six-hour training course before they are cleared to recommend marijuana to patients.

Expand cannabis patients’ registration cards to last two years instead of one.

Restrict medical marijuana companies from sitting on an inactive license, then flipping it for a profit.

Create a new Medical Marijuana Testing Advisory Council, and expand regulations around the testing of marijuana products.

“The Legislature for the last five years has been trying to walk backwards on marijuana,” Learned said in an interview. “I would say today is the first step forward, and there will be more.”

Delta-8 products are manufactured from hemp, just like other legal, over-the-counter products containing cannabidiol, or CBD. But the products, which can produce euphoric effects similar to medical or recreational cannabis, have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Under Roach and Learned’s bill, the state would require businesses selling delta-8 to register their products with the state, and not sell an ingestible hemp-based product to a Floridian younger than 21.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who was a cannabis industry lobbyist before running for office, said she welcomes the clarity in Learned and Roach’s bill.

“I’ve always been a big supporter of the expansion of cannabis in the state of Florida but doing it right,” Fried said. “We have to make sure that we are protecting the consumers.”

Lawmakers and lobbyists say the bipartisan bill is a true compromise. It does not give more conservative lawmakers every marijuana provision they would want. For example, a controversial policy limiting the amount of delta-9 THC in the marijuana sold to Florida patients is not in the bill. Roach sponsored that measure during the 2021 session.

“I think the political moment for THC caps has come and gone,” Roach said Wednesday. “The newer members coming into the Legislature seem to be younger and have a more libertarian bent, at least on the Republican side.”

The bill also does not have cannabis measures favored by some progressives, such as a provision preventing workforce discrimination for cannabis patients.

But measures like the expansion of telehealth, which became a flash point for some patients over the summer, are broadly popular.

No companion bill has been filed in the Senate, but Learned announced at a news conference Wednesday that one would be sponsored by Sens. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens. Jones confirmed this in a text message.

It’s unclear whether House Speaker Chris Sprowls or Senate President Wilton Simpson support the measure. Their offices did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

“It’s refreshing to see a bipartisan effort, even if it’s not [ultimately] successful,” said Ron Watson, a longtime Tallahassee lobbyist who specializes in medical marijuana issues.

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