Groundbreaking Bill to Decriminalize CBD Medical Marijuana Passes First Hurdle
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After more than an hour of testimony and debate, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee passed a groundbreaking bill Wednesday to decriminalize a non-euphoric strain of marijuana supporters say can save lives and ease the suffering of thousands of Florida children with intractable epilepsy.
HB 843 won the day in a 12-1 vote, with Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, the lone dissenter. It represents the first successful drug decriminalization vote in the Florida Legislature in more than 50 years -- and the first for a marijuana bill.
Committee members generally agreed there are still issues to settle, but they were firm in their desire to help families with nowhere else to turn.
The bill stipulates that strains of marijuana with 0.8 percent or less of the psychoactive component in marijuana, and more than 10 percent of the CBD strain of the plant will be legal -- as will its seeds.
"And we're throwing out $1 million as bait for anyone who will begin research and development on this," said Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, chairman of the subcommittee who, with Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, is sponsoring HB 843. Gaetz said he recognizes universities might not want to touch the research and development component of the bill for fear of losing their federal grants. Edwards pointed out that the state is rich in companies performing biomedical research right now. Both she and Gaetz are convinced one of them will take up the challenge.
On several occasions Gaetz compared the light-strain medical marijuana (CBD) to Flintstone vitamins, calling the bill a “common sense” solution for families who have run out of traditional medical options.
Harrell, whose areas of expertise in the Legislature include health and medicine, put several questions to Gaetz -- from the possibility of wily growers using CBD grow houses as a front for cultivation of euphoric marijuana, to protecting doctors from malpractice, to the bill's "misguided" need to go around the Food and Drug Administration.
At one point she said, "There already is a plan in place. I would suggest you move forward with an amendment to this bill that requires there be a pedigree attached that assures testing -- testing that follows from the grower to the manufacturer to the physician before he dispenses it. Would you agree?"
"I'm open-minded on that," Gaetz replied. "I think that could really improve the bill."
Committee members were visibly moved by the parents' testimony.
Peyton Moseley of Gulf Breeze, who had testified at a previous meeting -- who with his wife Holley have become poster-parents for legalizing CBD -- briefly told of taking 11-year-old daughter RayAnn to Colorado. The trip, he said, was not only for treatment, but to understand how doctors dealing with the crippling daily seizures of Dravet Syndrome interact with growers and distributors, and to see the chain of measures they take to make sure the drug is safe.
Moseley described to the panel the joy and comfort it brought them to meet other parents and sick children in Colorado. "These kids can walk now," he said, choking back emotion. "These kids can talk now. These kids are saying, 'I love you' to their parents for the first time."
Committee members made strong speeches before the vote.
Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, said he was "adamant" against the bill at the start "until I sat down and saw little (8-year-old) Rebecca Hyman and watched videos of her ... We have a plant here with medical value to help children like Rebecca. ... I encourage you all to support this bill."
Dave Kerner, D-Palm Springs, talked about "the duty we have here today ... an opportunity to save a life. No, it's not a perfect bill, but what are our risks? ... This is real leadership. The Florida Sheriffs Association is here supporting the bill, that's leadership. These parents are here today, that's leadership. ... This is a momentous occasion because we are going to embrace change."
Dave Hood Jr., R-Daytona Beach, had argued earlier that the bill should have gone further, to include those stricken with cancer. But in closing, he was unequivocally supportive. "This bill is really why we run," he said. "We run to help people."
In Harrell's summation, she said, "There's a way to do this appropriately ... I can't vote for this bill at this time." But she prefaced her remarks by saying, "My heart goes out to the parents. I cannot imagine having a child that is suffering so."
Gaetz said later so many committee members had a change of heart along the way, and all because they understand that marijuana -- cannabis -- is just a plant and there's lifesaving good to it as well as the bad that grabs the headlines. "Legislators have realized that a bumper-sticker approach to marijuana, where you're either for it or against it, doesn't serve the people of this state," he said. "With that understanding, we can move forward and do the right thing and really help these families."
Said Edwards, "The testimony, questions and debate underscored three needs: more research and development for cannabis-based therapies; a regulatory framework that ensures patient safety; and swift action and implementation so these patients don't have to wait any longer.
"I believe we're in good shape to keep moving forward and to continue improving the bill," she said.
HB 843 has two more committee stops before it arrives on the House floor. The Senate companion bill, SB 1030, was only introduced Tuesday and is yet to be heard.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.