A bill aimed at legalizing full-strength medical marijuana for terminally ill patients in Florida is gaining traction once again after having stalled out for several months.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee approved the bill HB 0307 (2016), by a 9-2 vote with 1 more stop to go before the full House weights in. If approved, terminally ill Floridians will have to wait less than a year before they can legally obtain medical marijuana grown by 5 authorized distributors.
The “Right to Try” law passed last year permits terminally ill patients to have access to experimental drugs that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The law allows patients to try any drug that has passed the first phase of an FDA clinical trial. The bill, and its companion, SB 460, are an expansion of that law, and a Senate version of it is up for a vote in that chamber. 
Under a law passed in 2014, only 5 dispensaries are permitted to supply medical cannabis, of which only non-euphoric types are allowed. Before Monday, the bill would have allowed 20 dispensing companies. But Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the bill’s sponsor, asked the subcommittee to lower that number to the same 5 allowed under the 2014 law in order to cut costs.
The 5 dispensaries were named 2 months ago, but challenges to their licenses are pending before the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). Three nurseries filed suit last week against the Department of Health (DOH) and the approved dispensaries seeking an injunction against proceeding with operations until DOAH makes its final determination. The department will not start hearing challenges until April 11. 
Sen. Rob Bradley sought to add a 22-page amendment to the bill to rectify some regulatory issues that have popped up as the (DOH) works to help dispensaries to start functioning, but he pulled the amendment to get the bill moving again.
“It was becoming clear to me that this was turning into a vehicle for a lot of issues surrounding medical cannabis, and I wanted to refocus the debate and attention on the patients. For today, I wanted it to be about the patients I told I would help that we move their interest forward,” Bradley said.
Right now, the companion bill, SB 460, is in the House. It still has 2 more committee stops before it can proceed to the floor.
“In the forefront of our minds, the act (of 2014) has been fiction to many vulnerable families in need,” Gaetz told The Associated Press last Thursday. “We can’t allow the state to be stuck in an endless loop at DOAH.
“There’s not a single state in the country whose cannabis policy I envy. If someone else had invented the wheel, we could have copied another state, but in my mind most other states have overshot or undershot by wide margin. Have to develop a uniquely Florida system for cannabis for people in need without creating a license for abuse.”
 Miami Herald
 NBC Miami
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.