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Bill to cap smokable pot strength gets OK from House panel

Cathyjordan

A bill aimed at limiting THC — the naturally occurring element in marijuana that produces a high — passed its first committee Wednesday.

The House Health and Human Services committee approved a bill that would limit the amount of THC in dried leaves and marijuana flowers to 10 percent, citing research indicating that high-potency marijuana is associated with earlier onset of psychosis and the development of schizophrenia in marijuana users.

The bill also prohibits doctors from certifying patients under 18 for marijuana for full-strength marijuana and gives free medical-marijuana identification cards for veterans.

Current law places a limit on the amount of THC in edible products only, which may only contain 10 mg of THC per serving and 200 mg in total. The levels are much higher than what most patients would normally consume, according to industry experts.

Despite criticism that the bill is trying to curb the Legislature’s recent repeal of a ban on smoking medical marijuana, committee chair Rep. Ray Rodrigues said the bill is necessary because of the research around harmful effects of high-THC marijuana.

“It is not an effort to restrict smoking,” the Estero Republican said. “Roughly half the states that have a program have a THC cap.”

The right to smoke medical marijuana was backed by the Florida Legislature and quietly signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis last month The bill also establishes a research consortium, allows products like bongs and rolling papers to be purchased and requires a second opinion from a board-certified pediatrician for non-terminal patients under age 18.

Rep. Cindi Stevenson, who brought up the research around psychosis, said if they don’t pass the bill, they are essentially “putting a stamp of approval on something that can cause violence.”

“Psychosis can be quite devastating,” the St. Johns Republican said. “If someone is not being treated, there is an increased chance of violent acts and that is amplified if you take an illicit drug.”

Opponents to the bill take issue with the limited dosage, and say it will force prices up and drive patients to the black market to get higher-THC marijuana.

“This [bill] is bad policy,” said Melissa Villar, of NORML Tallahassee. “It blocks access to the current strength of marijuana that has helped thousands of patients in the state already.”

Ron Watson of AltMed, a Sarasota-based medical marijuana treatment center, said the research citing psychosis as a side effect is too obscure to base legislation on.

“The patient has to go back and see the physician every 210 days. If this was occurring, physicians would be telling us about that,” he said. “If we pass this, it’s going to strengthen the black market and we’re trying to do everything we can to move away from that.”

Rep. Shevrin Jones, who voted no on the bill, said it ties the hands of the doctors who decide on the dosage for patients.

“I can’t support this because I think this goes against what the will of the people have asked for,” the West Park Democrat said.

Rep. John Cortes, a Kissimmee Democrat, also voted no on the bill.

“I love Rodrigues’ bill, but the cap is the killer.”

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