| Special to The News-Press
“We’re going to treat marijuana like medicine and we will not…tax medical marijuana.”
That was then-Representative Ray Rodrigues back in 2017, a few days after the right to medical marijuana was formally established in our state’s constitution. That right, of course, was made law by the over 71% of Floridians who voted “yes” on Amendment 2 in the 2016 elections.
He even name dropped me when he made that first of many pronouncements in 2017 that he would under no circumstances abide by a tax on medical marijuana, citing my hope (and his) that medical marijuana be “treated with the same seriousness as we treat medicine.”
Well Rodrigues, now in the Florida Senate, has long since changed his tune, offering up — session after session — bills that would cap THC levels in smokeable medical marijuana at 10%, the effect of which would be a tax on Florida patients in the 50%-150% range.
The math is pretty simple. THC is one of many chemicals in marijuana but is by far and away the most active one. It is also the one which produces the most and strongest medicinal effects for patients. A recent blast text message from one of the major MMTCs (Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers) in Florida listed six different strains of smokable marijuana for sale: the lowest THC concentration was just over 16%; and the highest was just under 26%. That means to achieve the same or similar medical effect under these proposed 10% caps, patients would have to spend — and smoke! — 60% to 160% more marijuana.
The legislature doesn’t like the fact that medical marijuana was legalized in the first place. I get that. They especially don’t like the idea of people smoking medical marijuana. I get that too. I was a plaintiff in the lawsuit to overturn the ban on smoking (also a Rodrigues “idea”). They lost that fight just like they lost the fight to establish a right to medical marijuana in Florida.
And it was literally days after newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis and the legislature, staring down the barrel of near certain loss at the Florida Supreme Court, finally relented and passed a bill allowing smoke — only days later — that Rodrigues filed his first pass at THC caps in smokable marijuana sold at MMTCs in Florida.
But the legislature must turn off their reefer madness blinders for a second and face facts that THC caps are an egregious tax on patients, no two ways about it. And if there is anything, ANYTHING, that Republicans in the Florida legislature dislike more than sick people smoking marijuana it is new taxes!
This is a tax that hurts everyone but benefits no one. It isn’t a tax being collected, only felt. If you think MMTCs are cheering because THC caps would force patients to buy more, think again: patients can only purchase up to 2.5 ounces of smokable flower every 35 days, regardless of whether it is 2% THC or 29% THC.
Patients will feel the effects of THC caps almost immediately. Many will be priced out of what patients already complain is a too expensive medical marijuana program, instead seeking out the black market. In addition to seeing customers disappear MMTCs will have to raise prices across the board, since the trim and other byproducts of higher potency marijuana sold for flower are used to make distillates and concentrates sold in vapes, edibles, tinctures etc.
In short, THC caps will be a gigantic financial and public policy disaster for Florida medical marijuana patients and the businesses that serve them. If there is one member of the legislature in a unique position to stop these caps in their tracks it is Sen. Ray Rodrigues.
We can only hope that Rodrigues remembers his promise from long, long ago back in 2017 and drops this harmful proposal to tax medical marijuana patients.
Ben Pollara is the executive director of Florida for Care.