Floridians will soon be able to get medical marijuana—but they probably won't be allowed to smoke it, thanks to some draconian regulation that just passed the state house.
Last fall, Florida voters passed a referendum to legalize medical cannabis in the state, and part of that decision included a directive to state legislators to figure out how to regulate medical weed. The state lawmakers took that directive extremely seriously. They cooked up regulation that, in its first draft, prohibited "marijuana in a form for smoking or vaping or in the form of commercially produced food items made with marijuana or marijuana oils." I guess they expected cancer patients to inject their weed?
The updated version of the bill, which passed the state house 105-9 this week, is only slightly less strict. Edibles and vaping are okay, but "marijuana in a form for smoking" is still banned.
Read More: Can Weed Cure America's Opioid Epidemic?
Ray Rodrigues, the sponsor of the bill and the house Republican leader, said that the narrow regulations were an attempt to balance the new legalization with the fact that cannabis is still illegal federally.
"We have to make it legal and available to Florida residents, but we have to do it in such a way that it complies to the guidance we've been given by the federal government," Rodrigues told the Tampa Bay Times.
Another state lawmaker, Senator Rob Bradley, told local reporters that the smoking ban was based on a health concern.
"There is agreement between the majority of the House and Senate that the smoking of cannabis is not an act that is consistent with a healthy life and not consistent with consuming medicine," Bradley said.
Neither of these explanations for the smoking ban totally holds water. Using it as a way to try to keep in line with federal prohibitions doesn't make much sense—the state is still legalizing weed for certain uses. And while lighting any substance on fire and inhaling the smoke does have some health risks, and releases toxins into the lungs, no medical treatment is without risks and side effects. It's illogical to ban one common, popular method of use simply because it's slightly riskier.
71 percent of Florida voters were in favor of legalizing medical marijuana
And the bill includes lots of seemingly random regulations beyond the smoking ban, including tightly limiting the number of licensed growers in the state to just seven, with 10 more by next summer, though it allows for more growers to gain licenses as more patients register to get access. Activists worry this limit on the grower market could inflate prices and make it more difficult for patients to get access.
The regulations also restricts access to medical marijuana to patients who have just 10 conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, and PTSD. Individuals with, for example, migraines—which is a qualifying condition in some other states like California—wouldn't be covered in Florida.
The inability to smoke could be a barrier, too. Lots of medical cannabis users prefer to smoke because it's the method that's most familiar to them. Others, particularly new users, prefer smoking because it provides an effect more quickly, and is easier to dose. Since edibles have to pass through the digestive tract first, it can take 30 minute to an hour for the effects to sink in. Patients looking for relief might accidentally eat too much if they don't feel any effects quickly enough, and they won't realize until it's too late (and they're uncomfortably high).
A vast majority of Florida voters—71 percent—voted in favor of legalizing medical cannabis. The people have made it really clear they think individuals suffering should have access to this potential treatment. And while it's expected that the state would set up some regulations, Florida's efforts outreach what's necessary to create a safe and effective system, as demonstrated by the success of medical cannabis programs in other states.
It's yet to be seen if this legislation will pass the state senate and the governor's desk, or how strictly it will be enforced. Here's hoping they don't start confiscating joints from patients because they're getting high the "wrong way."
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