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Medical marijuana special session appears all but certain

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It looks all but certain that state lawmakers will find themselves back in Tallahassee before the month’s end.

Two high-ranking state senators close to President Joe Negron say they believe he will join the call for a special session to implement the voter-approved medical marijuana constitutional amendment. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has already publicly supported doing so.

Negron and Corcoran have begun talking to lawmakers about how to resolve disagreement between the two chambers on a medical marijuana bill that broke down in the final hours of the legislative session last month.

A special session — likely slated for the week of June 19 — would allow them to implement a constitutional amendment passed by 71 percent of voters in November. It would also give them a chance to rewrite sections of the state budget if needed or override Gov. Rick Scott’s impending vetoes.

"Regardless of what the governor does on the budget, we will come back for medical marijuana and we will address any budget vetoes then if we need to,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, one of the lawmakers involved in backroom negotiations on medical marijuana during the final days of session.

Since session ended, calls have been mounting for lawmakers to return to finish what they could not on medical marijuana.

In addition to Corcoran, more than two dozen state lawmakers have publicly expressed their support for a special session. Sixteen have filed letters with the secretary of state’s office formally calling for the House and Senate to return.

The House and Senate are starting to re-open conversations among lawmakers to make sure whatever bill they put forward can pass, said Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. That’s important because if the Legislature came back and couldn’t reach agreement once again, it would look bad.

“Ideally, we would go into session with a good idea of where we’d end up,” Flores said. “Quite frankly, we can’t afford to mess this issue up again. We need to get this done.”

The last attempt broke down over a disagreement about caps on how many storefront dispensaries each licensed marijuana grower could open, a feud which caused a very public rift between John Morgan and Ben Pollara, the men who pushed medical marijuana into the state Constitution.

When lawmakers come back, Flores said, she hopes they do not tack any other issues being pushed by industry groups (for example, gambling or workers compensation) onto the call for special session.

“I think any other industry-driven issue can wait until we are back in session in January,” she said. “There aren’t any other issues where you had the overwhelming majority of Floridians go to a ballot box and say, ‘This is an issue you need to take care of.’”

— Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

Photo: Republican Sens. Bill Galvano, Tom Lee and Rob Bradley on the Senate floor in the final days of session 2017. (SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times)