Larry Heiny of Sarasota, Fla., shows his support for Florida's Amendment 2 medical marijuana ballot measure after a rally at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Oct. 7, 2014. (Cherie Diez, Tampa Bay Times)

Will Florida MMJ patients need to wait 90 days to start treatment? Lawmakers still deciding this and other regs

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers hope to agree by week’s end on medical marijuana, but the House and Senate bills still have many differences to resolve.

The Legislature is trying to come up with implementing rules for Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters last November. Rules must be in place by July and implemented by October.

Sen. Rob Bradley, speaking after his bill met its final committee approval Tuesday before heading to the floor, said talks continue with Rep. Ray Rodrigues on finding common ground, but they still aren’t there yet.

There are some similarities in the bills: Both would ban the smoking of marijuana and institute a seed-to-sale tracking system. But big differences remain: The Senate bill (SB 406) allows for quicker additions of medical marijuana treatment centers, including five more by October to the seven already operating, and eliminates the 90-day waiting period before patients can receive cannabis.

The House version (HB 1397) keeps the 90-day waiting period while banning vaping and prohibiting its sale as an ingredient in edibles such as brownies or candy.

Stephani Scruggs-Bowen of Pensacola, whose husband has epilepsy, says increased competition would help lower prices. She said the cannabis prescribed for Michael Bowen costs $500 per month in Colorado, but sells for $3000 per month currently in Florida, and does not have as much cannabidiol, the ingredient that helps prevent seizures.

“Everyone knows of people who this can help treat. They know it is not a bunch of dreadlocked hippies and stoners. It is real people like my husband,” she said.

The amendment expands the list of illnesses qualifying for medical marijuana prescriptions beyond cancer, terminal illnesses, epilepsy and chronic muscle spasms, to include HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other similar conditions.

Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for United for Care, likes how the Senate bill is progressing, but has concerns about the House effort.

“The Senate bill has gotten better every stop of the way while the House has only gotten worse,” Pollara said. “I have to hope they meet in the middle.”

Tuesday’s Senate Appropriations Committee meeting also offered medical marijuana supporters and opponents their last opportunity to publicly comment. The House and Senate have held a combined 10 meetings and workshops this session in crafting legislation.