Lawmakers may limit potency for recreational pot

Published on February 6, 2024 at 11:01 am

As a proposed constitutional amendment seeking to authorize recreational marijuana looms, Florida lawmakers are taking steps toward imposing limits on the amount of euphoria-inducing THC in pot products.

Past legislative efforts to cap the amount of THC in smokable medical marijuana have failed to gain support in the Senate.

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But the Republican-controlled Legislature is reconsidering the issue as the Florida Supreme Court weighs whether voters in November should be able to cast ballots on a proposed constitutional amendment that would authorize use of recreational marijuana for people age 21 and older.

The House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee last week approved a tweaked version of a bill (HB 1269) that would set THC caps for all types of marijuana products sold for “nonmedical” use. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, would go into effect only if voters approve the ballot proposal.

The Senate Health Policy Committee is slated Tuesday to take up a similar bill (SPB 7050).

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Both measures would cap the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in smokable marijuana at 30% for recreational use. The plans also would limit THC in “all other forms of marijuana,” except edibles, at 60%. Edibles would be capped at 10 milligrams of THC for each “single serving portion,” with a total cap of 200 mg of THC.

The state’s medical-marijuana operators and cannabis proponents oppose the caps.

Trulieve, the state’s largest medical-marijuana operator, has contributed more than $40 million to the Smart & Safe Florida political committee seeking to put the ballot proposal before voters. The marijuana company has given all but $124.58 of the money collected by the committee since the initiative’s launch in 2022.

The ballot proposal, in part, would allow the state’s currently licensed medical marijuana operators “and other state licensed entities” to participate in the recreational pot industry.

Massullo’s initial proposal would have capped THC levels in smokable marijuana at 10%, an amount that drew criticism from operators and cannabis advocates. Of the 24 states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana, only two — Connecticut and Vermont — have set potency limits. Both states set caps of 30% for cannabis flower and 60% for other products, with an exception for pre-filled cartridges for vape pens, according to a legislative analysis of the Senate bill.

The vast majority of smokable flower products currently sold by Florida’s medical marijuana operators have less than 30% THC, but nearly all have THC content higher than 10%.

Other products — including vape cartridges, for inhaling — currently for sale have potency levels far higher than the 60% cap included in the legislative plans. The proposed potency restrictions would only apply to products being sold for recreational use.

Addressing the House panel last week, Massullo emphasized that his bill “does not touch” the state’s medical marijuana program. Massullo, a dermatologist, said the measure was aimed at keeping potency levels safe.

“It’s important for us to protect the public against potential harms. It’s also important that we protect our existing medical marijuana program,” he said.

But Ron Watson, a lobbyist who represents one of the state’s medical marijuana operators, told the panel that even the 30% THC cap on flower marijuana could steer people to the illicit market.

Watson, who represents MuV by Verano, called the proposed caps “premature,” noting that the Supreme Court has not decided whether the proposed amendment meets legal requirements to go on the 2024 ballot.

“It almost feels like you’re putting a roadblock up where no road exists and potentially no road will ever exist,” Watson said, adding that the proposed THC potency levels are “arbitrary” and not backed by data. “The illegal black market, unfortunately, may continue to thrive under this bill.”

Critics of the proposal also argue that a 60% cap on products such as vape cartridges would require operators to blend additives that could be dangerous when inhaled. Some vape products now sold by operators in Florida have THC levels up to 90%.

“We remain opposed to any bill that seeks to preemptively thwart the will of voters. Any arbitrary cap will raise the cost, hurt consumers and encourage growth in the illicit market which the sponsor noted today has ‘90 percent dangerous chemical additives,’” Steve Vancore, a spokesman for the Smart & Safe Florida committee backing the proposal, said in a text after the House panel approved the bill Thursday.

The pot potency issue has bubbled up as the number of patients eligible for medical marijuana began to skyrocket after lawmakers authorized smokable cannabis in 2019, at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ behest. Former House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, was a major proponent of imposing THC caps, but the Senate over the past few years has balked at considering limits. This year’s effort, however, has the backing of Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland.

During last week’s House panel meeting, Rep. Kelly Skidmore also raised questions about having different potency restrictions for the medical and recreational use programs, should the marijuana initiative make it to the ballot and pass.

“We’re gonna have parallel markets … how are we going to regulate that?” Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, said before voting against the measure, which the panel approved in a 13-4 vote.

But Massullo brushed off criticism that the proposal was premature, pointing to a law passed by the Legislature — months before voters’ approval of a 2016 constitutional amendment authorizing medical marijuana. That law set up the framework for the state’s medical marijuana industry.

“I don’t think this is a preemption of the voters’ rights in any way, shape or form. As a matter of fact, I think it’s incumbent upon us to think about what we’re going to do ahead of time,” he said.

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