Last week, the Florida House of Representatives approved its version of the state’s medical marijuana bill (HB 1397) by a 105 to 9 vote. Now, it goes to the Senate, but it’s possible that the Senate could make additional changes and send it back to the House. In other words, this story isn’t over yet. Let’s take a look at where the marijuana industry in Florida stands based on the House’s version of the bill.

Key Changes in HB 1397

To be very clear, the House’s version of HB 1397 is far from perfect, and critics say it doesn’t represent the will of the more than 72% of Floridians who voted to expand medical marijuana access in November 2016. With that said, here are the key changes to Amendment 2 included in the approved bill:

  • Chronic pain is covered if it results from a “qualifying medical condition” rather than a “debilitating medical condition” as the amendment stated previously. Qualifying medical conditions are any of those included in the bill: cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, PTSD, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, medical conditions comparable to those previously stated, a terminal condition diagnosed by a doctor other than the qualified physician issuing the physician certification, and chronic nonmalignant pain.
  • Edibles and vape-able marijuana are allowed but smoking is still prohibited.
  • Noneuphoric forms of marijuana can be used in public.
  • Patients are no longer required to have a three month relationship with a doctor before marijuana can be recommended to them.
  • Patients only have to visit their doctor once per seven months to remain qualified as a medical marijuana patient (up from 90 days).
  • Doctors only have to be trained for two hours.
  • Caregiver exams are informational only, and a person can still become a caregiver if they fail the exam.
  • The number of grower licenses will increase to 17 (up from seven) by July 2018, and four new licenses will be granted for every 100,000 additional patients.
  • Licenses are still stacked with license holders required to grow, produce, distribute, and sell marijuana, but they can no longer contract out cultivation and dispensing.
  • To apply for a grower license, an applicant must have been in business in Florida for five years, but other requirements – such as having a nursery where 400,000 plants are grown – are no longer included.

Problems with HB 1397

While these changes seem positive, many marijuana advocates believe they’re not enough to ensure all patients have access to the medical marijuana they need. For example, the House’s bill doesn’t cover all forms of chronic pain nor does it allow smoke-able marijuana. However, the biggest point of contention is related to the licensing system – specifically, the number of licenses available in the state.

Currently, there are seven licensed growers in Florida, and as discussed in the Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, these are fully stacked licenses. That means, a license holder in Florida must control the entire supply and distribution chain from seed to sale, including growing, manufacturing, distributing, and selling. This system has been referred to as a legal pot cartel that not only limits patient access but also allows price-fixing and reduced competition. As a result, critics fear that patients will continue to use the black market.

While this monopoly is a sore spot for advocates of increased marijuana access for patients, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for investors who are investing heavily despite the uncertainty of the state’s marijuana program.

It appears that the state’s current license holders don’t have a problem with the monopoly either. Five of the seven existing license holders in the state have yet to provide a public opinion about it. According to information from The Capitolist, Surterra Therapeutics of Hillsborough County and Grow Healthy of Polk County support the expansion of the total number of license holders if it increases patient access. However, CHT Medical of Alachua County, Trulieve of Gadsden County, Knox Medical of Orange County, The Green Solution of Alachua County, and Modern Health Concepts declined to answer.

What’s Next?

The House’s bill has been sent to the Senate for review. The Senate could either approve it or amend it and send it back to the House. No matter what they decide, the state’s 60-day legislative session ends on May 5th, so the clock is ticking. Keep in mind, rules for the amendment, which was enacted on January 3rd, must be in place by July 2017 and implemented by October 2017.

What do you think of HB 1397? Weigh in by leaving a comment below.