Health Officials Move Forward With Marijuana Plans

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Florida health officials have laid out a new process to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical marijuana, as they attempt to meet deadlines included in the November ballot measure.

The latest proposed rule came as the Department of Health awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature of a medical-marijuana bill adopted by lawmakers during a special session this month. That bill addressed major issues, such as how many companies will receive marijuana licenses and how many retail outlets they can run.

Lawmakers on Monday formally sent the bill (SB 8-A) to Scott, who has said he will sign it into law.

The House and Senate approved the bill during the special session after coming under fire for failing to pass a regulatory measure during the regular session that ended early in May.

Under the proposed rule published Friday, the Department of Health appears to be laying the groundwork for the new law, which establishes a number of regulatory guidelines.

“Today, to ensure compliance with our constitutional duties, the department published proposed rules for the implementation of Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016,” Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said in an email Friday.

Gambineri said the department is crafting rules to comply with SB 8-A, “which provides a framework for patients to access marijuana safely.”

The constitutional amendment gives health officials until July 3 to craft rules to implement the amendment and until Oct. 3 to put the rules into effect.

Typical administrative-law procedures include timelines for challenges and revisions that could push finalization of the department’s regulations beyond the constitutional deadlines.

But the Department of Health is relying on an emergency rulemaking process authorized under the bill approved this month.

“This will enable the department to quickly implement the time-sensitive requirements of the legislation. Following emergency rulemaking, the department is committed to working collaboratively with the public through traditional rulemaking to establish a patient-centered medical marijuana program,” Gambineri said in an email.

Lawmakers in 2014 and 2016 approved measures that allowed medical cannabis for limited groups of patients, including people with terminal illnesses. But the constitutional amendment approved in November could make marijuana available to hundreds of thousands of patients — and make Florida one of the largest cannabis markets in the country.

The amendment gave doctors the authority to order marijuana for a broad swath of patients with debilitating conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam contributed to this report.

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