Which is better for Floridians, a legal pot or a medical marijuana program?
Posted On July 9, 2021
By Matt FlegenheimerFlorida’s medical marijuana system faces its biggest challenge yet, with the Legislature’s first attempt at a legalization bill stalled over opposition from some members of the state’s medical cannabis industry.
But for those who want to use the medical marijuana law, the state is offering something they can’t get anywhere else: a new state tax on the drug, with a projected tax of between $2.5 million and $5 million a year for a limited number of patients, according to a draft law obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
State Rep. Michael McNeil, D-Miami Gardens, the bill’s sponsor, said it would provide the money to fund the state medical marijuana pilot program and a new program to provide limited amounts of the drug to low-income patients.
The legislation, which is still in draft form, would raise $200 million annually, according the bill.
It would also create a new tax on cannabis, and set up a system to distribute limited amounts to patients with severe pain.
The bill’s backers include some of Florida’s top medical marijuana advocates, including two former state lawmakers who represent the Florida Hospital Association.
But the legislation faces opposition from many in the medical cannabis business, who say the state should allow people to buy medical marijuana to treat debilitating conditions, not treat marijuana-related illnesses.
The Florida Medical Association is calling the proposal “unconstitutional” and “anti-competitive.”
The Florida Medical Marijuana Pilot Program has been approved by the Florida Supreme Court, but McNeil’s bill is on hold pending the outcome of the appeals process.
The state’s marijuana industry has struggled to make the transition to a legal market, where dispensaries are allowed to sell to a regulated system and patients are encouraged to purchase their own.
McNeil said the bill was designed to create a “safe, regulated, patient-friendly” system that would give Floridias medical marijuana patients the “same access to medical marijuana that any other Floridian would have,” and said it was “essential to ensure that Floridian patients have access to the medical benefits of medical marijuana without being subject to discriminatory taxation.”
The medical marijuana bill has already been passed by the state Senate, and House and Senate committees are working on a version of the bill that would also allow people who are already licensed under the state Medical Marijuana Program to purchase cannabis for medical use.
But state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Stuart, the sponsor of the medical pot bill, said in a statement that it’s unclear whether it will be passed by both houses.
The bill would allow for up to three patients to grow up to 10 plants per household, but the bill would also ban the use of certain cannabis products that are grown and sold by a certain dispensary, according for Gaetz.
If the bill becomes law, medical marijuana growers would be able to apply for a license, with applications due in late May.
The draft legislation, however, has not been sent to Gov.
Rick Scott, who has said he will not sign it.
Scott signs this legislation, it will become the law of the land in Florida,” McNeil said in his statement.
“It is my hope that we can work together to get it passed.”
The bill is expected to pass both houses of the Florida Legislature and then go to Gov.-elect Charlie Crist, who is expected at the end of June to sign the bill into law.
In a statement, Crist said he’s heard from patients who support the medical use of marijuana and supports the new system.
“I have spoken with many Floridios who are in pain, and many Floridas who are suffering from debilitating illnesses,” Crist said.
“I’m encouraged by the fact that these patients are concerned about the potential impact of this new system on their ability to access care.”
He added that he “appreciates the support” of the American Medical Association and the Florida Nurses Association for the legislation.
The new medical marijuana tax is a big blow to Floridials already struggling with high costs for medical marijuana.
Florida’s average monthly bill for medical cannabis was $1,600 in January, according data from the Florida Department of Health.
The average monthly costs for patients with serious illnesses and cancer have risen by more than 50 percent in Florida in recent years.
According to the state Department of Revenue, Florida’s medical medical marijuana dispensaries are the second-largest in the country after Colorado.
The federal government has said it will not approve the medical uses of marijuana, saying it is illegal under federal law.