TALLAHASSEE – The latest stab on how legislators hope to regulate the forthcoming medical marijuana market comes from a 62-page Florida Senate bill aimed at a freer, more inclusive market for …
TALLAHASSEE – The latest stab on how legislators hope to regulate the forthcoming medical marijuana market comes from a 62-page Florida Senate bill aimed at a freer, more inclusive market for entrepreneurs.
Senate Bill 614 filed by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes on Feb 1. would repeal the existing Florida statue governing low-THC medical marijuana and replace it with regulations he says look much closer to the easy access and open market values voters approved by passing Amendment 2 last November.
Entrepreneurs and advocacy groups have lauded the bill as a step closer to the ballot initiative Floridians supported by 71 percent.
“[This bill] is exactly what the framers of Amendment 2 were looking for,” said Peter Sessa co-founder of the Florida Cannabis Coalition, a membership-based advocacy group for entrepreneurs who want to enter the medical marijuana industry. “This is what a free inclusive medical cannabis market looks like.”
The new bill would cap the number of Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers available in each county based on local population. The Florida Department of Health could issue one license per 25,000 residents in a county.
Under this bill, Clay County could have eight licensed medical marijuana companies operating within the district.
The bill also creates separate license types for businesses who want to either grow, process, transport or dispense medical marijuana. An MMTC is free to possess any type of license or a combination of multiple types of licenses.
The bill gives county and municipal governments the power to bar dispensaries in their districts, but also allows for an MMTC to deliver direct to patients, guaranteeing the medicine for patients who live in dispensary deserts.
“The overwhelming support of Amendment 2 was a strong mandate that Floridians demand fundamental change to the way we regulate medical marijuana,” Brandes said in a prepared statement.
Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley’s previous implementation bill aimed to place more barriers on new businesses seeking to enter the market by requiring each company be able to take the medicine from seed to storefront.
Critics say vertical-integration in the medical marijuana industry – where a business must perform the cultivation, processing, shipping and sale of marijuana – creates a monopoly where only the most capitalized companies can take part.
“The laws on the books today promote a state-sanctioned cartel system that limits competition, inhibits access, and results in higher prices for patients,” Brandes said. “This legislation outright repeals Florida’s defective law.”
Brandes’ bill would break up the vertical-integration that seven companies currently licensed by the state have adopted into their business model.
“I’m not against the companies that are advocating for vertical integration,” Sessa said. “[But] if you put limitations on who is going to be able to open these businesses, then you’re limiting that market. You’re not going to regulate somebody opening coffee shops because everybody is going to have the same coffee.”
“If you start limiting access, that’s when you run into monopolies.”
The 62-page bill eliminates a statewide cap on the number of MMTC licenses, sets up a system for medical marijuana ID cards, restrictions on how much medical marijuana a patient can have and prohibits advertising the products.
Brandes’ bill will find stiff competition from Bradley’s bill. Sessa sees Bradley’s bill as a marriage of an oppressive regulatory structure erected by FDOH and Brandes’ less regulated bill.
Still, he said, “I don’t think that’s a compromise. I think Bradley’s bill is much more geared towards the vertical integration and very limited market and is not really in the spirit of Amendment 2. I truly hope they lean more towards Brandes’ bill.”
Bradley said his bill’s heavy regulation is necessary for a drug that is still a schedule 1 narcotic under federal law.
“Therefore, it’s necessary that there is going to have to be strict regulation of the project,” Bradley said. “Vertical-integration allows the state government, which is charged with regulating under the constitution … to regulate from seed to sale.”
“What other market or industry has that model ever worked?” he said. “Where you limit an industry to a select few that can start a supply and leave it up to the rest of the market. Tracking is required across the board, some states even require specific software from growing to processing to the consumer purchases, depending on what chain of custody it has gone through and it’s not a ridiculously difficult process to implement.”
Sessa said more competition allows for better quality control of the products and lower prices.
“I think competition is important between those that qualify for licenses in order to make sure there’s better product and that they’re lower prices,” Bradley said. “But you have to balance that with the idea with anyone who gets into this business … they have to be properly financed and able to handle the security and other various restrictions…to make sure the product they deliver is of good quality and is safe.”
“If somebody just shows up with a bong and a dream and gets a license, they will not be able to properly and safely put a product to market,” Bradley said.