Senate approves medical marijuana bill

TALLAHASSEE — Heart-breaking accounts of cancer patients and sick children in need of relief helped pass medical marijuana legislation in the House last week, but concerns about regulations and whom the state will allow to participate in an emerging market preceded the passage of the bill in the Senate.

On Monday, opposing lawmakers spent hours pointing out flaws in a new bill that adds terminally ill patients to the list of those with access to medical marijuana and creates more guidelines for dispensaries that would grow, process and distribute marijuana here. But the Florida Senate ultimately passed the House-approved legislation that sponsors say addresses issues that have stalled implementation of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, which authorized low-THC cannabis for cancer and seizure patients. The vote was 28-11.

Few lawmakers in the Senate expressed opposition Monday to making medical marijuana an option for terminally or chronically ill patients. But several lawmakers railed against the new bill because it preserves a major provision of the 2014 law — making five dispensing organizations throughout Florida the only parties immediately authorized to provide medical marijuana. The new bill would allow three new licenses to be issued — including to a group of black farmers who won a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discriminatory practices — but not until the number of eligible patients in Florida reaches 250,000. It also includes language that automatically grants those already-approved companies the ability to produce other forms of marijuana.

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