TALLAHASSEE (NSF) - Next week's special legislative session focused on funding for education and economic development won't include medical marijuana, at least for now.
House and Senate leaders remained hopeful that they could strike a deal on the framework for carrying out a voter-approved constitutional amendment that broadly legalizing medical marijuana. But if they don't reach agreement before the special session ends, the Legislature is unlikely to take up the issue later this summer, according to a top senator.
Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced Friday they had agreed on the parameters of a three-day special session, slated to start Wednesday, to address education and economic-development issues.
The special session was also expected to include pot, after lawmakers failed to reach consensus during this spring's regular session on a measure to implement the November constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for patients with a wide range of debilitating medical conditions.
But Scott didn't include marijuana in his call for the Legislature to come back to town.
Even so, the House “has communicated to the ... Senate that this is an issue we believe must be addressed and that we are prepared to expand the call to address the implementation of the constitutional amendment approved by the voters during the 2016 election,” Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, said in a Friday memo to House members announcing the special session.
Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is slated to take over as president of the Senate late next year, told The News Service of Florida that lawmakers have yet to strike a deal on implementation of the medical marijuana amendment.
Lawmakers failed to reach agreement on a key sticking point --- how many retail outlets the state's marijuana operators would be allowed to run --- during the regular session that ended last month.
The House backed a plan that would limit the number of dispensaries for each operator at 100, while the Senate favored a proposal that would have established a cap of 15 storefronts for each vendor.
The House and Senate remain divided on the issue, Galvano said Friday.
“At this point, it's where, from my knowledge, we're still where we left off on the dispensary issue. I don't have information that that's changed at this point,” he said, adding that House and Senate bills were “very, very close” by the end of the regular session.
The Legislature's failure to pass a marijuana measure prompted calls from critics and supporters of the amendment to address the issue during a special session, something Corcoran and Negron said they supported. Without legislative action, more of the responsibility for the regulatory framework would fall on the state Department of Health.
But Galvano sounded cryptic about the possibility of a separate special session to deal with the regulatory framework for medical marijuana if lawmakers don't agree during next week's session.
“We still want to try to get something resolved next week. If we cannot, I don't know that waiting a month or two is going to make a difference,” he said.
John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who largely bankrolled the ballot initiative, encouraged lawmakers to take up the implementation of the amendment, supported by more than 71 percent of voters in November.
“Let's get `er done,” Morgan, who said he was willing to invest up to $100 million in the pot industry, tweeted.
Ben Pollara, who managed the political committee that backed the amendment but who has recently split with Morgan over the dispensary caps, called the absence of the marijuana issue in the special session “a gigantic disappointment.”
“People are going to be outraged by this,” said Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care, an organization backed by the medical marijuana industry.