On the one hand, Florida state Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero) likes to portray himself as a champion of capitalism, raising almost $2 million since 2015 through his political action committee, Free Markets for Florida.
On the other hand, Rodrigues has been hellbent on interfering with the free market when it comes to the state’s medical-marijuana program by repeatedly introducing bills that would place a 10 percent cap on THC, the psychoactive compound that gets people high, as well as it relieves a multitude of ailments. That would go against the will of the majority of Floridians, considering that 71 percent of voters approved medical marijuana in 2016 after legislators failed to do it themselves.
On Tuesday, after a similar bill died in the Senate, Rodrigues slipped an amendment into House Bill 713 that would place a 10 percent cap on the cannabis sold to patients under age 21. Last year, he tried to do the same thing to all cannabis dispensed, regardless of the patient’s age, but that bill died.
HB 713, which has not yet gone before a committee, is scheduled to be heard on the House floor today and is supported by House Speaker Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah), whose family happens to own a cigar company. Rodrigues’ office did not respond to an interview request from New Times yesterday.
Moriah Barnhart, whose young daughter has used medical marijuana, says Rodrigues’ hypocrisy is placing the lives of sick children at risk under the guise of keeping them safe from cannabis. Barnhart’s daughter was diagnosed seven years ago with brain cancer at the age of 2. Barnhart says Rodrigues’ obsession with reducing the potency of medical cannabis stems from the anti-cannabis interests that fund him.
„When bills like this pop up simultaneously around the country, there are vested interests backing it,” she says. „There are so many independent vested interests that they come together like hedge funds. They have mutual interests and put all this money together nationwide.”
Some of the anti-marijuana crusaders include the pharmaceutical industry, the alcohol industry, the tobacco industry, and even the nicotine-vaping industry, all which stand to lose business if more Americans begin gravitating toward ganja. Even police unions have a vested interest in keeping weed illegal because they have long depended on federal grant money to fight the failed drug war. All of those industries have donated to Rodrigues’ PAC. (Before Rodriques embarked on his anti-cannabis crusade, dispensaries Trulieve, Curaleaf, and Surterra also donated a combined $50,000 to his PAC.)
Arizona also is considering a bill similar — but much more Draconian — to Rodrigues’ amendment. That state is trying to place the THC cap at 2 percent, which would make Arizona’s medical cannabis closer to hemp than marijuana.
In Florida, the vertically integrated system created by the state legislature, which requires cannabis companies to operate from seed to sale, has resulted in a monopoly among dispensaries where both prices and shortages remain high. That has led to many patients dropping out of the program altogether and turning to the black market, Barnhart says.
If HB 713 becomes law, the prices at Florida dispensaries could be even higher because there will be more complications that go into cultivating the cannabis. That could result in even more patients turning to the black market.
Florida state Sen. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) had introduced a similar bill pushing a THC cap, but she withdrew it Tuesday after she was met with skepticism by both Republicans and Democrats. But the House has proven to be much more prohibitionist than the Senate.