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Florida's Medical Marijuana Patients Are Totally Screwed Now

Marijuana pills at Trulieve, Miami's first storefront dispensary.
Marijuana pills at Trulieve, Miami's first storefront dispensary.
Photo by Kristin Bjornson

Remember when 72 percent of Floridians voted to usher in a new era of open access to medical marijuana? That triumphant moment for medical weed was just in November, but for Florida patients this morning, it feels like a lifetime ago.

Late this past Friday, a bill to regulate the new weed industry imploded in Tallahassee. Then medical marijuana's two biggest champions — über-lawyer John Morgan and United for Care campaign consultant Ben Pollara — viciously turned on each other in a spicy Twitter beef.

Now the fate of medical marijuana access lies in the hands of Gov. Rick Scott's Department of Health, which has already signaled it will enact even more restrictive rules. The whole situation is likely to end up in court, meaning hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars will be wasted — and patients, in the meantime, still won't have the easy access to marijuana that voters overwhelmingly backed in November.

It's a mess, and it rests squarely in the laps of state legislators who couldn't even agree on a highly flawed bill to do what voters asked them to do. Late Friday, Senate and House leaders threw in the towel on medical pot regulations.  

The biggest hangup was on whether the rules should set a limit on how many storefront dispensaries each company with a medical pot license could open. The House and Senate also fought over whether to tax those dispensaries.

Although the two bodies will return today to try to hash out a final budget bill (which could still be vetoed by Scott), they've officially given up on setting rules for medical marijuana.

This past Saturday, Morgan, the wealthy attorney who bankrolled the pot amendment, laid the blame squarely on Pollara, his former right-hand man in leading the fight for medical weed. Morgan compared Pollara to Fredo from the Godfather movies and accused his former deputy of "selling out" by backing dispensary limits.

Pollara hit back that he was only ever paid by the same groups that pushed for the medical marijuana amendment in the first place. "I have been compensated over the last four and a half years for my work as campaign manager for United for Care and executive director of Florida for Care," Pollara said. "I have always viewed any financial stake in the marijuana industry as a clear conduct with my roles as an advocate and leader of these two organizations."

As the beef escalated on Twitter — with Morgan, a likely candidate for governor, calling Pollara "bought and paid for" and saying the failed bill was "all on him" — medical marijuana backers were left stunned and wondering what comes next.

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The short answer: nothing good. Without a bill from Tallahassee in place, Florida's DOH will be required to set up its own rules for the medical pot industry by July.

The DOH already set up a draft version of its own rules in January, and they were slammed by pro-pot advocates as overly restrictive. The DOH's rules would barely expand access already available in Florida by allowing patients with a few more debilitating conditions such as AIDS and cancer to obtain the medicine; it would prevent doctors from making their own diagnoses about other conditions that need marijuana and would ban smoking the drug.

Morgan has already promised to sue the state over the rules. But that legal fight won't end quickly, and patients who need the drugs will be left waiting even longer.

"The Florida legislature chose political gamesmanship over the will of 71 percent of voters,” Pollara told Politico this weekend. "The real losers are sick and suffering Floridians."

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