Despite a recent flurry of activity among lawmakers, lobbyists, as well as would-be medical marijuana growers and business operators, the failure of Florida Senate Bill 7066 (also known as the Low-THC Cannabis Act, “SB 7066”) to have a “companion bill” in the Florida House of Representatives, coupled with Baywood Nurseries Co.’s lawsuit against the Department of Health relating to the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, section 381.986, Fla. Stat. (the “CMCA”), the medical marijuana movement in Florida has seen little progress since the passage of the CMCA in June of 2014.
SB 7066 would have provided a much broader medical marijuana framework than the CMCA. SB 7066 proposed to expand the number of authorized medical marijuana licensees in the State from five, as currently mandated by the CMCA, to twenty. Moreover, it would have permitted a broader patient base than the CMCA by expanding the illnesses and symptoms for which a physician could prescribe the medical use of low-THC cannabis, allowing patients with ailments such as AIDS, ALS, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, paraplegia, quadriplegia or a terminal illness to use medical marijuana. In addition, although SB 7066 mirrored the low THC limits imposed by the CMCA, it greatly expanded the products that can contain medical cannabis, including food products (though it did seek to protect children by prohibiting the use of candy or similar confectionary products that appeal to them). Despite the many supporters of medical marijuana and SB 7066, the bill failed when the Florida legislature’s 2015 session ended.
Separately, Florida’s existing medical marijuana law, the CMCA, has continued to face legal challenges that have caused delay in its implementation. Baywood Nurseries Co.’s lawsuit against the Department of Health, which challenges various provisions of the CMCA’s proposed rules and claims that the Department of Health exceeded its authority when drafting such rules, has not been resolved. Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins has not yet rendered his decision. Until he does, the CMCA’s implementation will remain on hold.
These setbacks for the medical marijuana movement in Florida have cause many proponents to believe that the best way to advance their cause is to get a Constitutional amendment on the November 2016 ballot, which amendment would enable physicians to recommend various forms of cannabis, including those with high levels of THC, to a wide range of patients, while not limiting the number of dispensaries that can operate within Florida. Such a ballot initiative narrowly failed in November 2014, but many believe that by building on the awareness and infrastructure built in the time leading up to the November 2014 vote, they can reach the 60% threshold required to pass such an amendment.