Florida Governor Rick Scott Signs Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana For Terminally Ill

Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill that allows terminally ill patients in the state of Florida to have access to medical marijuana.

In an effort to ease the suffering of terminally ill patients in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill in late March to slightly expand the state’s highly limited medical marijuana program. House Bill 307, approved by state lawmakers earlier in the month, extends Florida’s “Right to Try Act” to include medical marijuana. The act gives terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs not yet approved by the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Since 1996, 23 states and Washington D.C. have passed medical marijuana legislation. Cannabis has been found effective for alleviating several symptoms commonly associated with terminal illness, including painspasmsseizuresnausea, and vomiting. Although cannabis’s therapeutic effects have been scientifically investigated for many years, its Schedule I classification under the Controlled Substances Act causes hurdles for researchers and thereby hinders its progress in becoming FDA approved.

Prior to the passing of the bill, medical marijuana was completely outlawed throughout the state of Florida with the exception of a highly restricted law designed to give patients with seizures, spasms, and cancer access to cannabidiol (CBD) oil. The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 was supposed to allow this very limited group to use non-psychoactive cannabis low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). However, long-running administrative and legal challenges have prevented patients from obtaining cannabis.

Republicans Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Matt Gaetz sponsored HB 307, which establishes licensed dispensing organizations to grow and distribute medical marijuana to terminal patients. The new bill will also attempt to address the problems that have prevented medical marijuana access to seizure, spasm, and cancer patients. It allows the five previously approved dispensing organizations to go through due process and get a license and authorizes the approval of three additional dispensing organizations once 250,000 qualified patients have registered.

“We can finally deliver on the promise we made to those suffering families two years ago. The delays are over,” said Bradley. “I appreciate Governor Scott’s support of the bill, and his Staff’s help in making the bill better as it moved through the process.”

The signing of the bill arrives just months before Floridians are to be presented with an initiative to legalize medical marijuana throughout the state. The United for Care campaign, spearheaded by Orlando attorney John Morgan, has collected the necessary signatures to place the broad legalization initiative on the ballot this November. The proposal would widen the variety of approved medical conditions and allow access to cannabis containing CBD and THC, provided patients get approval from a physician. The state voted on a similar initiative in 2014, but came up just short to reaching the required 60 percent voter approval (57 percent).

The legislation has a good chance of passing this time around though, as the majority of Florida voters support both medical and adult use marijuana legalization. An October 2015 survey by Quinnipiac University found that only one in 10 Florida voters oppose legalizing medical marijuana, and 51 percent of voters support legalizing adult use marijuana.

It’s not just the suffering patients that stand to gain if the state does pass legislation this coming November. Last October, a Florida state economics panel concluded that medical pot is “tangible personal property” and therefore “subject to sales and use tax.” The panel’s report estimated that annual state and local government sales tax revenues could get an estimated $67 million bump with the passing of medical marijuana legislation. While adult use legalization seems a ways off in Florida, a September 2014 report by Nerd Wallet estimated that the state could make approximately $183 million in annual revenue from sales and excise tax if it were to pass adult use and medical marijuana legislation.

For now, however, thanks to Gov. Scott’s signing of HB 307, terminally ill patients and those suffering from seizures, spasms, and cancer will hopefully acquire the cannabis and, therefore, the therapeutic relief they deserve. Learn more about Florida’s cannabis laws by visiting our education page.