Medical Marijuana in Florida
On June 9, 2017, the Florida State Legislature passed Senate Bill 8A (SB 8A), the Medical Use of Marijuana Act. The bill was forwarded to Governor Rick Scott on June 19, 2017 and the Governor has stated that he will sign it into law. The Florida Department of Health is currently in the process of establishing a regulatory framework for the implementation of the new law.
At this time, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws approving the use of medical marijuana. Despite this, it is still possible for the federal government to criminally prosecute users and distributors of medical marijuana, even if they were in full compliance with the laws in their home states. For example, in January of 2013, Aaron Sandusky was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for operating a marijuana dispensary that was a legal business in his home state of California.
Incredibly, marijuana is still classified by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means that the federal government considers it to be it is highly addictive with no medical benefit whatsoever. However, the national sea change on medical marijuana has been fast and drastic. In May of 2017, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a stop-gap budget which prohibited the use of federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it is legal (the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment).
In response, Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly released a letter to Congress which objected to the amendment, stating:
I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.
This letter appears to indicate that the current position of the Justice Department is that medical marijuana is still prohibited by federal law. As an increasing number of states, the process of regulating medical marijuana in Florida has begun. What remains unclear is whether the federal government will continue to arrest and prosecute individuals who, like Aaron Sandusky, are in legal compliance with the laws of their own states.