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Compromised health care
April 21, 2017

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Legislation to enact a voter mandate to legalize medical marijuana moved forward this week.

House and Senate committees each nudged forward bills that would allow Floridians with "debilitating illnesses" to obtain the drug if prescribed by a licensed physician.

Unfortunately, the House and Senate versions differ significantly in some key aspects, including the form in which medical marijuana could be used, regardless of what a physician might choose to prescribe.

Even worse, neither prioritize patient need.

A member of the Southwest Florida delegation sponsored the House bill.

As written, the proposal sponsored by District 76 Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, would prohibit patients with illnesses like "cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical conditions" from ingesting edible marijuana or smoking the drug. House Bill 1397 would also prohibit "vaping" for all but terminal patients.

As drafted, the 61-page bill also would prohibit physicians from prescribing medical marijuana to new patients for 90 days unless the patient is terminally ill; impose numerous paperwork requirements on prescribing physicians; and require caregivers to register, obtain certification and pass background checks.

Sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-District 5, Senate Bill 406 is more patient friendly, allowing vaping and the consumption of medical cannabis, both banned by Rep. Rodrigues' House proposal.

This bill, though, still would prohibit patients from smoking medical marijuana.

A couple of things.

The voter mandate could not be more clear.

The legalization of medical marijuana was approved by nearly 72 percent of voters last November after state legislators ignored a majority mandate two years before.

Medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states. Only five ban smoking. None prohibit smoking, vaping and consuming - nearly every form of use - which was reportedly pushed here by the same groups and organizations that worked to defeat Amendment 2 last year.

According to various news accounts, Rep. Rodrigues says he's open to compromise.

One would hope.

But is compromised health care - and compromised voter trust - really where Florida wants to land on medical marijuana?

We think not.

So, with both the voter mandate and compassion for those with debilitating illnesses in mind, let us ask two questions that must be running through the minds of the 6.5 million voters who carved the legalization of medical marijuana into our state constitution:

- Why, in the state where healthcare expenditures exceed $132.5 billion annually - more than 6 percent of the nation's total despite lower per capita costs- would Rep. Rodrigues propose legislation that would be, perhaps, the most restrictive in the nation?

- And why would officials in both houses proffer proposals that would ban smoking, allowed in 24 states and the form most often preferred by the very people voters had in mind when they overwhelmingly said yes to medical marijuana?

House Majority Leader Rodrigues dropped the ball on this one at the handoff.

Sen. Bradley's effort is better but still stops short of the goal: Prescription access to a drug available to patients in a majority of states, in a form their physician believes can best provide the maximum benefit.

It appears Florida voters need to make their views known on this one.

Yet again.

Rep. Ray Rodrigues can be reached at 239-433-6501, or better, email him at Ray.Rodrigues@myfloridahouse.gov

Other members of the Southwest Florida delegation include:

* Rep. Dane Eagle, Cape Coral

239-772-1291

Dane.Eagle@myfloridahouse.gov

* Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Fort Myers

239-338-2570

Benacquisto.Lizbeth@flsenate.gov

* Rep. Matt Caldwell, Lehigh Acres

239-694-0161

Matt.Caldwell@myfloridahouse.gov

* Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, Fort Myers

239-533-2440

Heather.Fitzenhagen@myfloridahouse.gov

You can email Sen. Bradley at bradley.rob@flsenate.gov

We urge you to let them know what you are thinking.

Otherwise, it's pretty safe to say any legislation that will come to a full vote this legislative session will bear little resemblance to what Floridians had in mind when they voted to make medical marijuana available to those who need it.

- Breeze editorial

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