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Competing Medical Marijuana Proposals In House, Senate

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(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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Medical Marijuana

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Lawmakers in both chambers are advancing proposals that would open the door for a non-euphoric strain of marijuana that backers believe can dramatically reduce seizures in children with a rare form of epilepsy.

But the two proposals take very different approaches toward making the strain of cannabis known as “Charlotte’s Web” available to about 125,000 children in Florida who might benefit from the compound. The Senate plan, passed for the first time in a committee on Tuesday, would legalize the substance. In contrast, the House proposal would not decriminalize the product but would provide individuals arrested, investigated or charged with a crime an “affirmative defense” that they could use to prove their innocence in court.

Both proposals deal with Charlotte’s Web, a strain of marijuana low in tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component in marijuana, but high in the derivative cannabidiol, or CBD.

The Senate measure (SB 1030), unanimously approved by the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday, would create a statewide “compassionate use” registry of individuals deemed by their physicians to be eligible for “low-THC” treatment. The Senate plan would also allow users to ingest the substance by vapor, something not expressly permitted in the House version. And it would allow up to four dispensaries to distribute the substance, which could contain no more than .5 percent of THC and at least 15 percent CBD.

Doctors could write the prescriptions for people who suffer from seizure disorders and who do not respond to other treatments, and keep records of how effective the treatment is. Doctors would have to submit quarterly reports about the efficacy of the treatment to the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, which would conduct research on the reports. The Senate plan would set aside $1 million to cover the research.

Under the House plan (HB 843), people who have strains of marijuana that contain .8 percent or less of THC and more than 10 percent of CBDs, along with the seeds of the plant, would have an “affirmative defense” available to them if they are caught with the substance or charged with a crime. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the bill’s sponsor, said he hopes that law-enforcement officials and prosecutors won’t go after families, growers or doctors involved with Charlotte’s Web. The House version also allows for higher concentrations of THC and lower concentrations of CBD, which supporters say would treat more types of neurological diseases than the Senate’s more restrictive levels.

As in previous hearings on the hybrid, the Senate panel heard from parents who believe their children would benefit from the treatment — and fear they could die without it.

Peyton and Holley Moseley’s 11-year-old adopted daughter RayAnn is one of about 125,000 Florida children diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that can cause hundreds of seizures a day and does not respond to other treatments. The couple traveled to Colorado, where Charlotte’s Web is manufactured, and met with the child for whom the hybrid is named, who can now walk and talk.

“And that’s why I’m here today, to ask for that opportunity for RayAnn and other children in Florida,” Holley Moseley said.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a former prosecutor, said that lawmakers need to do something to help the “wonderful, inspirational parents” who are looking to the Legislature for help.

“Any law that would define them as criminals defies common sense and is a law that should be changed,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said.

GOP leaders in both the House and the Senate support the concept of making the non-euphoric pot available to parents whose children are wracked with hundreds of seizures a day and which can be fatal.

And many Republican lawmakers are galvanizing support around Charlotte’s Web — which doesn’t get users high and isn’t smoked — as a more acceptable alternative to the medical marijuana question that will go before voters in November. The proposed constitutional amendment — bankrolled by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who is also Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist’s boss — would let doctors write prescriptions for severely ill patients. Republicans insist the amendment gives doctors too much discretion over who is eligible for the pot treatment and, if passed, would result in “pot shops on every corner.”

Some GOP holdouts are reluctant to legalize any form of pot for personal and political reasons. Some fear that voters will interpret authorization of Charlotte’s Web as tacit approval of traditional medical marijuana. Others are concerned that the House proposal lacks the details necessary to ensure that the product delivered to patients is controlled and regulated.

“I’m still cautiously optimistic that we can thread the needle so that we can help these families in some way and yet not abandon our whole understanding of drug safety and dosage and testing. It has its troubles. But it does protect consumers. We need to handle it very cautiously,” said House Judiciary Chairman Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

“The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam contributed to this report.”

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