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Medical marijuana expansion clears House health panel but concerns remain about number of licenses


A Florida House health care panel on Wednesday approved an expansion of medical marijuana, clearing the proposal for floor votes in both chambers of the Legislature.

The panel also changed the language in HB 307, eliminating an expansion of the number of nurseries licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana.

The bill, by Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, would allow people with terminal illnesses to use medical marijuana. It gained support from Republicans and Democrats on the House Health and Human Services Committee.

But some groups continue to voice concerns about the number of licensed growers. Just five nurseries, which were already chosen by the Department of Health to grow low-THC cannabis under a 2014 law, will be allowed to establish dispensaries. Three of those licenses are bogged down in a lawsuit.

Under the new language passed Wednesday, three additional nurseries could be licensed to if the total number of medical marijuana patients surpassed 250,000 in Florida. An earlier version of the bill increased the number of licensed nurseries outright.

Some say the threshold is unrealistically high. They want to see it dropped, saying it will open the market to more competition.

“There are about 150,000 terminally ill patients in Florida,” said Jeff Kottkamp, the former lieutenant governor and a lobbyist for marijuana company AltMed. “If every single one of them registered with the state, we’d never reach the point where additional licenses are made available … That number is way too high.”

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the sponsor of a medical marijuana bill in the Senate, said he likes the changes made in the House but pointed out that specific numbers are negotiable. 

The changes, he said, will help get drugs to people who need them, especially those eligible for low-THC cannabis who have been waiting almost two years since the Legislature legalized it. Among those patients are children suffering from cancer or severe epilepsy.

“The thing the House language does and something that I would like to see done is put an end to these challenges to those five licenses and get this product to the people who were promised the product in 2014,” Bradley said. “I’m very pleased to see what the House did today.”

Bradley said it’s too early to tell what will happen on the Senate side, where his bill has different provisions from the House, but he’s hopeful a compromise between the two chambers could pass.