Pubdate: Tue, 27 Jan 2015
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2015 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Dan Sweeney, Staff writer
Page: 1A


Measure Also Tackles Flaws In 2014 Initiative

Although a proposed medical marijuana amendment failed in the 2014
election, medical use of the plant could come to Florida as soon as
July 1, 2016.

That's the date by which Florida would have to begin issuing
marijuana patient ID cards under a bill filed Monday by State Sen.
Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. The bill would allow patients with
certain medical conditions to obtain marijuana with a doctor's
recommendation. It also addresses several of the criticisms levied at
the unsuccessful constitutional amendment ballot initiative.

'I just believe that physicians and patients should be able to make
determinations about what's best for their care,'Brandes said.
'And I believe it should be done through the legislative process.'

That process has only just begun. The Florida House has started to
craft its version of the bill, which legislators have said would need
to specifically name diseases covered by the law. The legislative
session begins March 3.

The group that pushed for the constitutional amendment, United for
Care, has already begun the process of getting a new amendment on the
ballot in 2016. Last year's initiative garnered 58 percent ofthe
vote but needed 60 percent to pass.

A ballot initiative in 2016 has a better chance to pass, given the
larger turnout in a presidential election year. So the legislature may
be motivated to pass a bill, even if only to prevent a broader,
more-liberal amendment from becoming law through a ballot initiative.

The Senate bill, SB 528, would greatly expand on the noneuphoric
marijuana law passed last session but still not implemented because of
problems determining who would get the five allotted grower licenses.
The state hopes to have new rules ironed out by Feb. 4.

The new bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for: cancer;
HIV/AIDS; epilepsy; ALS; multiple sclerosis; Crohn's disease;
Parkinson's disease; or any other medical condition that causes
wasting syndrome, severe and persistent pain, severe and persistent
nausea, persistent seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms.

Additionally, a patient suffering from other diseases could get pot if
in a 'physician's good faith medical judgment, the patient has
exhausted all other reasonable medical treatments for those

That leaves open one of the issues opponents used last year to defeat
the proposed marijuana amendment. Critics said the amendment's
language would allow anyone to get pot. Brandes said the open door to
marijuana in his bill is barely ajar.

'It means you've been seen by a physician at least three months,
the physician has tried a number of other things, and in their good
faith medical judgment they think this will work. Then, they have the
means to prescribe,' Brandes said.

Critics also claimed minors could get access to marijuana and
dispensaries would pop up on every street corner.

Under the proposed bill, anyone under 21 would need parental approval
and the recommendation of two doctors, and county commissions would
decide how many dispensaries, if any, to allow.

Qualifying patients would be allowed to possess a 30-day supply of
marijuana, but the exact amount would be up to the doctor who
recommended marijuana.

Patients or their designated caregivers would be able to purchase the
pot from licensed retailers. The regulation of those retailers will be
up to the state Department of Health. Potential growers would have to
pay a $100,000 licensing fee; retailers would pay $10,000.

The bill also includes rules for how doctors can qualify to recommend
marijuana, and how the plant would be distributed from growers to retailers.

'We are going to get a good medical marijuana bill passed  -
whether it's through the legislature or on the ballot,' said Elias
Egozi, the state director of United for Care. 'This is a big,big
deal  -  but it's a long way from becoming law.'
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