What happens when the government doesn’t entirely listen to the people’s voices? What happens when the votes you cast for specific laws get muddied when the government is tasked with putting those laws into action?
Florida residents are dealing with both of those questions right now. In November 2016, the vast majority of Florida voters cast their ballots in support of Amendment 2—a law that would expand the state’s medical marijuana availability significantly beyond the 1,800 residents who qualified for medical marijuana at the time.
The problem is that Florida lawmakers seem determined to blend Amendment 2 with existing marijuana laws rather than listening to voters and developing a new regulatory framework for medical marijuana. Advocates for Amendment 2 are fighting against this blended approach citing two primary issues.
First, the proposed blended law would limit the number of approved marijuana growers (who are also the only approved distributors and sellers) to the existing seven. As discussed in Cannabiz Media’s Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, limited competition hurts the marijuana industry as well as patients.
Second, the new law that residents voted in favor of would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as the nine specifically listed in the amendment if the doctor believes the use of marijuana outweighs the potential health risks. The blended rule proposed by lawmakers would require that a medical board approves each of the conditions first. Clearly, these two approaches are not in alignment.
Florida residents can voice their opinions about the new legislation by attending one of five public hearings being held across the state in early February.
Volatility isn’t New to the Marijuana Industry
Florida isn’t the first state to run into delays and surprising changes when it comes to creating and implementing marijuana laws. Massachusetts residents voted in favor of legal marijuana during the November 2016 election, but on December 29, 2016, the Massachusetts House and Senate passed a bill that could delay the opening of marijuana shops in the state by up to six months.
However, unlike Florida, Massachusetts lawmakers didn’t give residents an opportunity to respond to the proposed law. Instead, the Massachusetts bill was passed during informal sessions in both legislative chambers without a public hearing or a debate. Making matters worse, only a small number of lawmakers were actually present when the bill passed because so many of them were away for the holidays.
In Colorado, a different kind of volatility has made it difficult for some marijuana retailers to stay in business. When a law passed last year requiring dispensaries and growers to have all marijuana products tested, businesses in some municipalities faced significant challenges to comply. That’s because Colorado’s marijuana dispensaries must obtain state and local licenses to operate. Without both licenses, they cannot get their products tested. Unfortunately, some municipalities didn’t have local licensing systems in place in time to meet the new law’s July 1, 2016 deadline.
The Colorado example discussed above shows how even though residents voted a long time ago to legalize marijuana, the actual laws that are written can make the industry as a whole run quite differently than how voters expected it would when they cast their ballots. In other words, there is a discrepancy between state and local rules that often goes against voters’ choices on state laws.
Volatility in laws is another topic discussed in the Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition. Not only are all states’ rules different from each other, but local rules can be even more varied. With that said, variations in laws are to be expected while marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, but state and local rules should always adhere to the voice of the people.