Crunch Time in the House for Gaetz-Edwards Medical Marijuana Bill
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House Bill 843, often called "the Charlotte's Web bill," faces its most critical review yet Monday morning when it goes before Rep. Dennis Baxley's Judiciary Committee.
The bill that would speed light-strain medical marijuana to severely epileptic children sailed through the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Approriations Committee. But it did so largely because bill sponsor Matt Gaetz and co-sponsor Katie Edwards promised members they would get questions answered and iron out the bill's kinks before it reaches the House floor.
(The complete, 13-page redraft of HB 843 is here, and the staff analysis of the bill is here.) The Judiciary Committee meeting is set to begin at 10:45 a.m.
Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, told Sunshine State News Sunday, "We will be proposing a dispensary model with some research components suggested for the state surgeon general. I'm cautiously optimistic that we can get this bill to the floor."
Edwards, D-Plantation, said she is optimistic, too. "I'm appreciative to Chairman Baxley for giving us the opportunity in his committee to debate this important and timely subject," she said. "He kept his word, and we are bringing him a bill that reflects the comments and concerns raised by the public and fellow lawmakers in previous committee meetings."
As Gaetz predicted, the House bill is now closer to Senate Bill 1030, sponsored by Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. SB 1030, which would allow legalization for patients listed in a statewide "compassionate use" registry, is scheduled to go before the Senate Rules Committee at 1 p.m. Monday and isn't expected to meet overwhelming opposition.
The House bill creates s. 381.986, F.S., “Compassionate use of low-THC cannabis." It establishes a regulatory scheme overseen by the Department of Health (DOH) that authorizes the use of low-THC cannabis for medicinal purposes.
It does vary in one critical respect from the Senate Bill. HB 843 stipulates that strains of marijuana with 0.8 percent or less of THC (the euphoric component) and more than 10 percent of the plant’s CBD strain (the beneficial component) would be legal -- as would its seeds. The product could only be given out by a "dispensing organization" -- meaning an organization approved by the DOH to cultivate, process, and dispense low-THC cannabis.
The Senate bill, meanwhile, calls for the plant extract to be limited to no more than 0.5 percent THC and at least 15 percent CBD, and would be available from up to four dispensaries statewide.
Some salient points in the bill before the House Judiciary Committee:
-- Those charged with the sale, manufacture and possession of cannabis can use a medical necessity defense in Florida. The bill describes in detail how that would work as it applies to the low-THC-high-CBD medical marijuana defined in the bill.
-- Doctors will have to obtain the voluntary informed consent of the patient or the patient's legal guardian to begin treatment.
-- Out-of-staters won't be able to fly in and find a doctor to write a prescription. Medical marijuana patients must be residents of Florida.
-- Physicians would write the names of those cleared for low-THC treatment in a "compassionate use registry," then be required to submit the patient treatment plan quarterly to the University of Florida College of Pharmacy for research on the safety and efficacy. (This is similar to the requirement in SB 1030.)
-- The bill also creates s. 385.212, F.S., requiring DOH to establish the Office of Compassionate Use. It falls under the direction of the deputy state health officer and is authorized "to enhance access to investigational new drugs for Florida patients through approved clinical treatment plans or studies."
-- The bill also creates vehicles to authorize medical centers and state universities with both medical and agricultural research programs to conduct research on cannabidiol and low-THC cannabis. "This research may include, but is not limited to the agricultural development, production, clinical research, and use of liquid medical derivatives of cannabidiol and low-THC cannabis for the treatment for refractory or intractable epilepsy."
-- It appropriates $1 million in nonrecurring funds from the General Revenue Fund to DOH for fiscal year 2014-2015 for the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program. The funds must be deposited into the Biomedical Research Trust Fund, and are reserved for research of cannabidiol and its effect on intractable childhood epilepsy.
-- The DOH and Florida Department of Law Enforcement both will be impacted financially. That is discussed in the bill's staff analysis.
HB 843 co-sponsor Edwards emphasized the larger significance of the bill. "With all of the relevant studies pointing to the need for more research and development of cannabis-derived therapies that may aid individuals with multiple diseases and illnesses," she said, " it is in our best interest as a state to continue moving forward with an aggressive policy plan to further this growing interest in CBD."
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423