TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Legislature met Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' deadline to hand him a bill to repeal the state's ban on smokable medical marijuana when the House passed the legislation Wednesday.
While lawmakers aren't necessarily in favor of allowing medical marijuana to be smoked, they faced the prospects of having it become legal without any restrictions.
"This is a difficult issue, and you're going to have people on both sides; some that are happy that now this is available to them and others that feel that we didn't go far enough," House Speaker Jose Oliva said after the vote. "We did the best that we could do and still remain responsible."
Voters approved medical marijuana in 2016, but lawmakers banned smokable forms of the plant in a bill signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2017. The state was sued over the issue and a judge declared the ban unconstitutional. Scott, now a Republican U.S. senator, appealed the ruling. DeSantis said in late January that the current law doesn't represent the will of the voters and that he would drop the appeal if lawmakers didn't repeal the ban by mid-March.
Lawmakers quickly followed up on his ultimatum. The bill is the first to go to the governor in the 60-day legislative session that began last week and the only bill the House has considered at this point. The Senate passed the repeal six days earlier and the House passed it on a 101-11 vote without debate.
"I thank the Florida Legislature for taking action on medical marijuana and upholding the will of the voters," DeSantis said on Twitter.
The bill places several conditions on smokable medical marijuana. It would not be available to anyone under the age of 18 unless the patient is terminally ill and if two doctors, one of them a pediatrician, say it is the most effective form of treatment. It could not be smoked in public or at private businesses subject to the state's cigarette smoking ban.
Private property owners would have the right to prohibit it. Patients wouldn't be able to possess more than four ounces of marijuana in a smokable form.
Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues sponsored the bill and pointed out that the law that passed two years ago was widely supported even with the smoking ban.
"We passed that bill 109 to nine," Rodrigues said. "Many of us feel like we got it right."
But if DeSantis were to drop the lawsuit appeal, Rodrigues said, there would be no rules guiding smokable medical marijuana.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who advocated for a repeal of the smoking ban, praised the vote in a news release.
"Today's action to finally allow smokable medical marijuana brings four words to the lips of people across our state: It's about damn time," said Fried, a Democrat. "It's long past due that the State of Florida honored the will of the people and allowed doctors to determine their patient's course of treatment."