A House subcommittee in Florida voted on Thursday to advance a medical marijuana bill that would waive patient registration and renewal fees for service-disabled military veterans, approving the measure from Rep. Susan L. Valdés (D) on a 14–1 vote.
“Medical cannabis has shown promise in alleviating symptoms commonly experienced by military veterans, like managing chronic pain, alleviating the effects of PTSD, improving sleep and reducing the dependency of opioids,” Valdés said of her legislation, HB 1435. “This bill will eliminate the financial barriers that veterans face when accessing medical marijuana, their chosen healthcare solution.”
Currently, it costs $75 annually to maintain registration in the state’s medical marijuana program.
Before moving the bill, members of the House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee first adopted a striking amendment from Valdés that revised the measure to specify that it applies only to “service-disabled” veterans rather than veterans more generally. Would-be patients would need to include a DD-214 form—military discharge papers—in their application for a medical marijuana ID card.
The measure has support from a number of advocates and organizations, including NORML Tallahassee and the Florida Cannabis Action Network.
The lawmaker who cast the one no vote, Rep. Kimberly Berfield (R), did not explain her opposition during the hearing.
The Florida panel’s action Thursday followed its approval of a separate measure, HB 1269, that would preemptively set THC limits on adult-use cannabis products ahead of a legalization ballot initiative that may go to voters in November.
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Veterans have long been a core advocacy group in favor of legal access to medical marijuana, both at the state and now federal levels. In December, veterans groups pushed President Joe Biden (D) to ensure that the ongoing administrative review into marijuana’s scheduling status is completed in a “timely manner” and also take steps to “counter” misinformation while pursuing broader reform.
In Congress, meanwhile, lawmakers are pushing to keep provisions in a large-scale federal spending bill that would allow VA doctors to issue medical marijuana recommendations to veterans living in legal states.
That reform would achieve the same policy outcome as a standalone bill that was refiled on the House side in March by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brian Mast (R-FL).
The Veterans Equal Access Act has been introduced several times in recent years with bipartisan support—and moved through committee and floor approval a number of times—but has yet to be enacted. Blumenauer, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, has made the modest reform a priority even as he’s pushed for broader legalization.
In August, bipartisan congressional lawmakers expressed “deep concern” over a recently updated VA marijuana directive that continues to prohibit its doctors from making medical cannabis recommendations to veterans living in states where it’s legal.
They said the decision to maintain the “harmful policy” on cannabis recommendations is especially “alarming” in the context of VA’s latest clinical guidance on PTSD, which strongly recommends against using medical cannabis as a treatment option.
Congressional lawmakers this past November, meanwhile, held a first-ever hearing on psychedelic-assisted therapy for military veterans.
In Florida, meanwhile, a law enacted by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last summer added new restrictions to medical marijuana advertising and manufacturing, prohibiting any products or messages that promote “recreational” cannabis use, while adding more stringent eligibility requirements for workers in the industry.
Additionally, the governor approved a bill in June that expressly prohibits sober living facilities from allowing residents to possess or use medical marijuana, even if the patient is certified by a doctor to legally use cannabis therapeutically in accordance with state law. All other doctor-prescribed pharmaceutical medications may be permitted, however.
He also signed legislation in July banning sales of any consumable hemp products—including cannabis “chewing gum”—to people under 21, an expansion of an existing prohibition on young people being able to purchase smokable hemp.
Despite DeSantis’s opposition to broader legalization, he nevertheless has predicted activists will be successful in getting their legalization ballot measure to November’s ballot. Earlier this month, he said advocates will likely beat a Supreme Court challenge from the attorney general, who is seeking to block the vote.
“I think the court is going to approve that,” the governor said at his final presidential campaign event in New Hampshire, “so it’ll be on the ballot.”
In the legislature, meanwhile, a Florida Republican senator introduced a bill in December to allow licensed medical cannabis businesses to take state tax deductions that they are barred from claiming at the federal level under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E.
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