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Medical marijuana implementation collapses on dispensary issue

How many retail dispensaries should a medical marijuana treatment center reasonably operate? The Florida House thinks it's around 100 dispensaries per treatment center, but the Senate thinks it should be around 5. This disagreement has stalled the implementation of Florida's medical marijuana amendment, to the consternation of many who voted for it.

The bill looks dead for now. A spokesperson for the Department of Health said they continue to review public comments. If the agency makes rules at this point, litigation is expected.

"The legislature chose political gamesmanship over the will of 71 percent of voters," said the executive director of Florida for Care. "The House got to poke the Senate in the eye one last time, but the real losers are sick and suffering Floridians."

House Speaker Richard Corcoran blames the Senate. After all, part of the appeal of the medical marijuana amendment is that it takes a completely illegal product and turns it into one that is both legal and taxable. The Senate's narrow limitation on dispensaries could require some patients to drive for hours to obtain legal, taxable weed. They might not do that.

Those who would never consider violating the law by buying weed on the black market are also displeased by the inaction. One board member of the Florida Epilepsy Foundation actually suffered a grand mal seizure during an April 18 Senate committee hearing. That unintentional demonstration of the seriousness of medical weed was not enough to get things moving, however.

"I am 100 percent disgusted. They needed to get something passed. They can hammer out the finer points in future sessions," the board member told reporters.

Under current law, patients with epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms, cancer or terminal illnesses are allowed to use non-smoked cannabis. Those with terminal conditions, chronic pain or 10 other conditions can use full-strength medical marijuana -- although they may not smoke it.

The bill currently being considered would have created a much-needed supply chain for the legal cannabis. Patients would be allowed to have three 70-day prescriptions per doctor's visit. They could have taken these to be filled at a medical marijuana treatment center with non-smoked medical cannabis, such as oils and sprays. The bill would also have expanded the range of available products to include edibles and vaping oil. Ten more medical marijuana treatment centers would be authorized to open by July 1, 2018.

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