Under a Florida medical marijuana bill passed Monday, terminally ill patients will now have greater access to full-strength cannabis. The legislation expands the state’s current legislation regarding use of the drug.

The bill, HB 307, is an expansion of Florida’s Right to Try Act and allows patients suffering from intractable epilepsy and other seizure disorders as well as cancer to use a non-euphoric strain of marijuana to treat symptoms. In a bipartisan 28-11 vote, the new bill was passed by the Senate and will now go on to Florida’s Governor Rick Scott for signature.

HB 307 also includes language to fix some problems with Florida’s current marijuana law, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. When the law was first passed in 2014, legislators thought many patients would have access to non-euphoric marijuana by early 2015.

Legal challenges have delayed licensing

Many patients are still waiting while legal battles from competing interests regarding licensing requirements have caused significant delays in distribution of the drug.

The current Florida marijuana law divides the state into five regions and only one grower is authorized to grow, distribute, and sell weed per area. With only five licenses available, some lawmakers say this creates an unfair advantage to a very few industry participants.

“Does this set up a state-sanctioned drug cartel, which is what it is?” asked Senator Jeff Brandes. “Yes, it does. You’re basically mandating that five families get wealthy.”

Over 20 companies applied for a Department of Health license to grow and distribute medical cannabis after the 2014 act was passed. Previous legislative sessions have tried to amend the law to either allow more licenses or expand existing licenses, but the initiatives failed to gain any traction.

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Several of the companies that did not receive a license sued the state, saying they were wrongly denied by the department. Senator Rob Bradley, who sponsored the new marijuana law, believes many of these cases will be decided in favor of the companies and Florida will most likely have at least eight approved dispensing organizations by the time the fight is over.

The law increases the number of growers

Nonetheless, the new medical marijuana legislation creates additional licenses for cannabis growers and expedites the process to get the drug into the hands of patients, according to Bradley.

Once Florida reaches 250,000 registered patients, three more licenses to grow and distribute the plant will be issued by the state. Some argue this threshold may be too high as other states with medical marijuana have yet to reach that many patients.

The cannabis bill also clarifies requirements for labeling medical marijuana products and current growers will have authorization to distribute non-smokable cannabis products to patients. The penalties for doctors who incorrectly prescribe the drug are also defined by the bill’s language.

Even though the new medical marijuana bill was written to resolve some of Florida’s current regulatory problems, most lawmakers agree that the law will continue to evolve and be revised in future legislative sessions.