$1 Million for Medical Marijuana Research Sails Through House Appropriations
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Despite a host of policy questions on HB 843, the House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the $1 million sought to fund research on the bill that would speed light-strain medical marijuana to severely epileptic children.
The committee heard from a number of citizens who made their vote easy.
"Last night we had to rush her to Shands," he said, fighting back tears. "This is one of the mornings we weren't sure she would wake up. But I wanted to be here today to thank all of you for keeping an open mind."
Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, bill sponsor, walked the committee through the proposal, explaining as he did for the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee that HB 843 is specifically to address intractable epilepsy in children. Without it, he said, 125,000 Florida children will die before their 20th birthday. The $1 million being requested is explained in lines 134-139 of the bill, and would go to the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program.
The King program was established in the Florida Statutes (s. 215.5602, F.S.) by the Legislature, which specified that the program's purpose was to support research initiatives that address the health care problems of Floridians in areas of tobacco-related cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and pulmonary disease. Intractable epilepsy, or Dravet Syndrome, would be added to this list.
Several members of the committee asked if the bill would lead to an expansion of medical marijuana treatment for illnesses beyond epilepsy, for example, cancer and ALS, and if so, would $1 million be enough?
"We certainly are hoping this research will lead to more," replied Gaetz, "but right now our goal is to cover all our bases with this bill, make it as sound as possible, just so we can give these children what they need as soon as possible."
Gaetz provided a brief explanation of the Senate's version of the bill. Instead of merely providing a defense for epilepsy families arrested for possession of CBD medical marijuana, as HB 843 does, Senate Bill 1030 talks about legalization for patients listed in a statewide "compassionate use" registry.
Appropriations members' policy questions were concerned mostly with how the police would deal with arrests, how grow houses could be kept from "slipping in" euphoric plants, how the safety of the product could be assured.
"I see this as a big challenge to law enforcement," said Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. He referenced the testimony of ALS patient Cathy Jordan, who has smoked marijuana for 17 years, is obviously infirm, yet when police are called, they're put in a position they shouldn't have to deal with. He also said he "didn't want to see bad actors" taking advantage of any new law.
Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville and Matt Hudson, R-Naples, both said they have "enormous concerns about policy" they will discuss in the appropriate committee. Nevertheless, they voted to approve the research money without hesitation.
Co-sponsor Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, Gaetz's foot soldier on the bill, was not called upon to speak.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.