Florida's Faith-Based Community Opening Its Mind, Heart to Life-Saving Marijuana Strain
Around the State
Conservative Christians once stood fast against even a lighter form of medical marijuana that can't produce a "high," saying it could lead to full legalization of marijuana, and nothing was worth that chance.
But that was once. Now, with a push from a pair of legislators committed to making life better for countless Florida families, many conservatives -- even the faith-based -- are changing their minds.
Right now, Charlotte's Web is available only in Colorado. It is high in cannabidiol (CBD), something doctors say can reduce and even eliminate seizures. But the good rest-of-the-story is this: CW has a low THC content, the component that gives users a high.
Gaetz and Edwards made drug law history Jan. 9 when they held the first Florida legislative hearing on a specific medical use of marijuana. The desperate parents of suffering children testified before the House criminal justice subcommittee. Among them were Danielle, Seth and 8-year-old Rebecca Hyman from Weston, for whom Edwards has long sought help. Rebecca has a severe genetic disorder that causes her to have epileptic seizures that don't respond to traditional medications. The Hymans hold out hope that one day she will have the same access to this strain of marijuana as she does to penicillin.
Conservative hearts began to melt almost immediately -- and have ever since the hearing -- now with the ability to put a name and face to real need.
Even Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, House sponsor of the bill to test welfare recipients for drug use says he now wants to decriminalize this non-euphoric strain of marijuana for medical purposes.
Said Smith on his Facebook page, "As the representative who ran the bill on drug testing welfare recipients, I want to make it clear in this statement that I DO NOT endorse the smoking of marijuana for the purpose of becoming intoxicated (high), I do, however, plan on supporting a change in statutes that will decriminalize the use of pill, cream or other forms of the plant that do not have enough Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to produce a high but will allow for it to achieve its medical purpose."
Gaetz and Edwards have started to schedule appointments with organized church groups. They've already met with Mike McQuone, health consultant for the Florida Catholic Conference and a specialist in pharmacy. They hope to meet with the Florida Baptist Convention next. "We're trying to be very responsible," said Edwards.
McQuone told Sunshine State News, "We had a good conversation in context about Charlotte's Web. I am preparing a document for review. But it hasn't been presented to the conference yet, therefore we have no point of view. I can only tell you that it was a very good conversation."
Bill Bunkley, president and CEO of the Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (FERL) is anxious for his meeting with the lawmakers. Bunkley is also a spokesman for the Florida Baptist Convention. "I'm looking forward to having a good conversation with Representative Gaetz on this new strain of medical marijuana."
Asked for his opinion on Charlotte's Web at this point, he said, "Right now I have no comment or position on any aspect of the marijuana issue, but that's not to say I won't later, after Representative Gaetz and I have talked. We're studying it with an open mind, trying to understand this potential bill better before we make a comment or take a position on it."
Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, conservative though he is on drug issues, clearly is supportive of Charlotte's Web. But he was careful to keep a lid on any predictions. "I think the supporters make a compelling case for the use of Charlotte’s Web to treat children with severe seizures," he told SSN. "(But) there is currently no member bill filed on the matter."
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, Judiciary Committee chair, explained that the concept of a bill is a far cry from the bill itself, and Charlotte's Web legalization has a long way to go. Nevertheless, he said, "I'm very open to having this discussion, very excited about trying to find a way to do something about these kids. But we have a lot to explore, which is why there is no fully developed bill language yet.
"Do we do the health and science first or the legalization? Have we done the right testing? Do we have the dosage right? I mean, are we sure if we cure seizures, we aren't giving him a brain tumor? A lot of this is about how we approve drugs. But I'll tell you this," Baxley said emphatically, "I'm for exploring how we can give parents access to a cure and especially to hope."
Other conservative legislators, when asked, didn't hide their support for this limited legalization of medicinal marijuana.
Rep. Dave Hood Jr., R-Daytona Beach, who has thoroughly educated himself on the drug, didn't try to mute his support. "Charlotte’s Web is produced to help individuals with debilitating diseases find some relief from life-threatening seizures and pain, not to induce the 'high' normally associated when we hear the word 'marijuana,'" he explained. "Many people are not aware that cannabis grown and used in the Charlotte’s Web variety is not smoked but administered by pill or in oil form. ... If this substance will alleviate suffering without side effects in children, why shouldn’t we do all we can to provide access to this medication to adults and allow research to develop a safe and effective medication?"
Said Hood, "The argument that it is addictive doesn’t stand up, in my opinion. Morphine is used in hospitals to control pain. What would happen if the same argument applied to medical marijuana prevented the use of this drug? It is addictive, isn’t it? I absolutely support this form of legislation."
Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, still a strong tea party leader in Northwest Florida, told SSN, "I spoke to a parent with a sick child the other day who moved me deeply. I will admit, I was very intrigued by all she said about Charlotte's Web and what it meant for her child, and I promised her that I am compassionate and that I would study this form of marijuana in detail and keep a very open mind. And that's what I'm going to do."
Said Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, "I sat through the workshop on this, and believe me it was eye-opening to see what this strain of marijuana could do to relieve suffering and actually save lives. Yes, I'm a committed conservative, but I am also a compassionate person, and I think this form of the drug as medicine, which doesn't get you high, has great potential and not just for kids."
Edwards has explained she wants the bill because families are waiting, and because it's no sure thing that a People United for Medical Marijuana amendment to blanket-legalize the plant for medical purposes will make it to the November ballot. The state Supreme Court has until April 1 to make that decision.
She told the Sun-Sentinel, “Even if the court upholds the [ballot] language and they get the required number of signatures and it passes, the Legislature still has to get involved to implement the will of the voters. The bottom line is, the Legislature has to get involved at some point.”
For Matt Gaetz, it's simple: "Know why we're talking about helping children with this drug? Because you don't see any adults with the illness. They don't live long enough to grow up." In a TV interview, Gaetz explained the idea came from innovative growers in Colorado. "They found out it didn't get anybody high, but it worked miracles, real miracles, on special needs kids who were getting as many as 200 epileptic seizures a day. But with Charlotte's Web, only about one a month.
"As a limited government conservative," Gaetz said, "I don't want the government standing between parents and their children. This isn't like the constitutional amendment, with a dispensary on every corner. ... I'm telling you, Christians believe in compassion and they care" -- and they are coming around as you would expect," he said.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.