Despite jeers, boos and shouts of "willful ignorance" from opponents in the crowd, a bill aimed at limiting THC — the naturally occurring element in marijuana that produces a high — is headed to the House floor.
The House Appropriations committee gave the green light to a bill Tuesday that would put a cap on the amount of THC in marijuana flowers at 10 percent, citing research indicating that high-potency marijuana is associated with earlier onset of psychosis and the development of schizophrenia in marijuana users.
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 heated criticism by opponents 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.
“As a policymaker, our goal is to do no harm and make sure the public policy we are adopting is good for the state of Florida,” the Estero Republican said. “ High THC being smoked is harmful … we will focus on the areas we see harm.”
The bill also prohibits doctors from certifying patients under 18 for marijuana for full-strength marijuana, gives free medical-marijuana identification cards for veterans and provides $350,000 to the Department of Health to implement the bill.
To the disappointment of some veterans and former opioid users who showed up to the committee meeting, an amendment that would define an opioid addiction as a qualifying condition did not pass.
“For many patients, medical cannabis has become an exit drug for their addiction to opiates,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, who put forth the amendment. “They have begun taking medical cannabis and it has helped them wean themselves off a more powerful medicine that has the ability to kill them.”
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.
Opponents to the bill take issue with the limited dosage, and say it defies the law that was passed last month, will force prices up and will drive patients to the black market to get higher-THC marijuana.
Smith said for $60 a bag, people will turn to the black market where their marijuana could be unsafe or laced with dangerous chemicals.
"Who is best suited and positioned to decide what the THC content is going to be most effective? It’s not us," he said. "It should be the doctor."
A veteran and cancer survivor named "Morgan" said for his condition, low THC cannabis is "not worth smoking."
“This 10 percent cap is nonsense ... No cap should be allowed,” Morgan said. “I need a high THC dose. Being a cancer survivor, having no thyroid … I need high doses of THC to get in my blood system to make sure I’m medicated.”
Josephine Cannella-Krehl, a clinical social worker and marijuana advocate, asked that committee members consider Cathy Jordan, the ALS patient who has become the face of the movement to lift a ban on smokable medical marijuana. Jordan smokes marijuana every day to treat her illness, which has kept her living decades beyond her initial life expectancy. Her cannabis strain tests well above 10 percent THC, Krehl said.
"This bill is a death sentence for Cathy Jordan and patients just like her," she said.