WINTER PARK, Fla. — Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized the Legislature's implementation of a medical marijuana law and said Jan. 17, 2019, that if they don't fix it quickly, he'll take matters into his own hands.
DeSantis wants a new law by mid-March 2019 that will end a ban on smokable medical marijuana and loosen limits on treatment center licenses, saying Florida voters spoke clearly when they approved medical marijuana in 2016.
If the Legislature fails to act, DeSantis will drop challenges to lawsuits on both issues, effectively letting the courts resolve them instead of lawmakers. He said he would prefer not to do that.
“I want to have the elected representatives write the law in a way the people intended, so we'll give them a couple of weeks in session to address the smoking issue, and if they don't do it, we're going to dismiss the case and move on,” DeSantis said.
He addressed the media in Winter Park, near Orlando, standing alongside John Morgan, a personal injury attorney. Morgan led the effort to put the medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot. It was approved by more than 71 percent of voters.
Morgan is also the person who sued the state over the smoking ban, publicizing it with the slogan, “No smoke is a joke.”
“What's next is no smoke is no longer a joke. It's a victory for the people of Florida,” Morgan said before the press conference. “Litigation should always be the last resort ... negotiation should be the best resort. That's what we're going to do. We're going to step back a few inches, give them a chance to get it right and if they don't get it right, then they're going to get it another way.”
A circuit court judge ruled in May 2018 that the smoking ban is unconstitutional, but then-Gov. Rick Scott appealed the decision. DeSantis succeeded fellow Republican Scott, who is now a U.S. senator, earlier in January 2019.
DeSantis also said he wants the amended law to address licensing limits that are also subjects of lawsuits.
“They created a cartel, essentially,” he said. “That is not good policy, so I'd like them to address that as well.”
Florida's new Republican legislative leaders, Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker Jose Oliva, said they'll work with DeSantis to amend the law. Galvano said in a news release that implementing the constitutional amendment “has been an ongoing problem mired in complex and protracted legal challenges.”
“Gov. DeSantis has indicated that he prefers a legislative solution rather than a judicial order to bring the issue of implementation of the amendment to a conclusion. A legislative solution has always been my preferred course of action, and we will certainly honor the Governor's request,” Galvano said.
Democratic state Sen. Gary Farmer filed a bill to allow smokable medical marijuana shortly after the DeSantis announcement.
“I would like to commend Gov. DeSantis for his willingness to lead on this issue where past administrations have showed a lack of courage,” Farmer said in a press release.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who campaigned on making medical marijuana more accessible, said she wants quicker action on smokable medical marijuana.
“Every day that medical marijuana in the pure plant form is unavailable to patients, Floridians continue to suffer. This is an issue I've seen firsthand throughout our state and country, and one that touches my family personally,” Fried said. “My mother was recently diagnosed with cancer, and she is struggling to find medicine that relieves her suffering.”
The annual legislative session begins March 5.
-- Brendan Farrington and Mike Schneider
Featured Image: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking at lectern and joined by fellow Florida Republicans U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Lt. Gov Jeanette Núñez, warned legislators Jan. 17, 2019, during a press conference in Winter Park, Florida, that he would drop legal challenges to the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law if they fail to act. De Santis wants state lawmakers to repeal a ban on smokable marijuana and make treatment center licenses more widely available. (Orlando Sentinel photo via The Associated Press/Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda)