Marijuana Treatment in Florida Charlotte's Web Law Could Face Long Delay
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Florida's new medical marijuana law might have run into an obstacle too great to help sick children as quickly as the Legislature intended or families who had urged the bill now expect.
When the second day-long workshop on the "Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014" convenes at 9 a.m. Friday, legislators, lobbyists, affected families and other interested parties are likely to discover the University of Florida, the hoped-for $1 million recipient and research component called for in the bill, is out of the mix.
Research by Florida universities, particularly UF, was a prime incentive for many legislators who voted for the bill.
The bill authorizes "state universities with both medical and agricultural research programs to conduct specified research on cannabidiol and low-THC cannabis; authoriz(es) state or privately obtained research funds to be used to support such research; provid(es) an appropriation to the department for research of cannabidiol ..."
"I hope UF speaks up at the Department of Health rule-making workshop to clarify to what extent they are willing and able to participate in this," said Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, co-sponsor of the bill in the House.
Gosa-Hooks presented a long list of hoops she says the university would have to jump through -- all obstacles legislators were trying to respect but overcome when the landmark Senate Bill 1030, nicknamed Charlotte's Web, became law. The bill Gov. Rick Scott signed June 16 legalizes the use of a non-euphoric strain of marijuana to treat conditions such as epilepsy, Lou Gehrig's disease and cancer.
In a clarifying letter, Gosa-Hooks said, "The university may possess and conduct research on marijuana if the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) approves a registration and the institution complies with the robust restrictions imposed by the registration."
DEA has not removed marijuana from its list of Schedule 1 drugs, in spite of the review the plant is due.
"In order to get marijuana from the University of Mississippi," Gosa-Hooks continued, "the university would have to obtain the necessary federal permits. Obtaining the federal permits would require a research proposal, along with protocols for how the marijuana will be used in the research, how the material would be secured and disposed of.
"After permits are awarded, an application could be made to the University of Mississippi for the material specified in the research and permits," she said. The University of Mississippi is the only place where federally legal marijuana is grown.
She made it clear "the university would not be able to join with the agricultural industry in Florida to participate in, or oversee/supervise, the cultivation, manufacture or distribution of marijuana (including by growing marijuana for research, creation of seedlings or provision of plant material to others) for any purpose, including research or medical use."
Neither could the material be transferred to growers because it would have to be disposed of after the research is completed as the permits specify.
The university provided a Q&A that goes further to elaborate what it can and cannot do regarding the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. It is shown in full in the attachment at the end of this story.
Janine Sikes, a spokesperson for the university, admitted, "To participate by the book, as we must do to comply, we probably are looking at years rather than months, but I would be afraid to guess how many."
She said, "It would be faster to talk to members of Congress to get a rule change."
Gosa-Hooks said, "Believe me, we wanted desperately to participate. It would simply be foolhardy not to protect our federal funding."
The measure approved by the Legislature allows five growing and distribution centers. Because of the last-minute amendment to the bill introduced by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, growers must have been in operation for at least 30 years and capable of growing at least 400,000 plants. The State Department of Agriculture says 46 nurseries qualify for a license.
The last meeting caused a stir over the draft rules, with the biggest issue being a proposed lottery to award the five licenses. Linda McMullen, director of the state's Office of Compassionate Use, was working on a draft rule last week.
If all rules are hammered out -- including the combined research-cultivation-distribution component, the bill enables Florida physicians who have been authorized to order this strain of medical marijuana to start writing prescriptions Jan. 1. It will be sold through dispensaries licensed by the state Department of Health.
Said Rep. Edwards, "One thing is for certain, the federal government needs to untie the hands of researchers, growers and doctors to bring cannabis-derived therapies to Florida patients and help expedite the research and development process."
The second rules workshop -- at the Betty Easley Conference Center in the Southwood subdivision of Tallahassee -- likely will be televised on The Florida Channel, as the first one was.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.