Republicans in Florida introduce bill to legalize medical marijuana
Mary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
Thursday, January 9, 2014 7:39pm
TALLAHASSEE — Hope came Thursday for families whose children suffer from epileptic seizures, as the chairman of a key legislative committee agreed to file a bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana that has a high content of the chemical compound cannabidiol.
“Our work is only beginning,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, after the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee heard testimony for nearly two hours from parents of children from Miami, Weston, Tampa, Pensacola and even Colorado.
The families pleaded with lawmakers to legalize strains of marijuana such as “Charlotte’s Web” saying it is their last, best hope of relieving the uncontrollable seizures in their medically fragile children. The strain is high in cannabidiol or CBD, the ingredient that controls seizures, but is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, the compound that creates a high.
They spoke of the anecdotal evidence that children treated in Colorado have had their seizures reduced by half or more. They cited studies that show that cannabis with a high cannabidiol content has no side effects and is not addictive. And they spoke of being faced with the decision of leaving Florida to get treatment for their child.
“I am going to ask Speaker Weatherford to approve a proposed committee bill that will contain this language for Charlotte’s Web,” Gaetz announced at the conclusion of the meeting, “so that these people do not have to be criminals.”
It was a remarkable admission for a legislator who opposes the use of medical marijuana and was so wary about scheduling a workshop on the subject that he tucked it into an agenda on sentencing reform.
But a combination of the compelling family stories, and Gaetz’s aggressive attack on every doubt raised, left the committee with few reasons to oppose it.
“I’m moved by the compassion of all of this,” said Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Palatka Republican who is a Baptist preacher and one of the most conservative members of the Legislature.
He opposes marijuana, he said, but when it comes to harnessing the herb to treat a specific malady, “I don’t think this is substance abuse. I think it’s using this wisely.”