Power of a Few: How Florida Legislature's View of Medical Marijuana Has Turned Around

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: April 1, 2014 3:55 AM
Matt Gaetz, Katie Edwards, Jeff Clemens

Matt Gaetz, Katie Edwards, Jeff Clemens

Whatever the outcome of the medical marijuana bills dominating the conversation in the Florida Legislature, one thing is certain: More lawmakers are embracing cannabis as a cure than they are as a curse.

This is new. It's downright stunning in a world dominated by conservatives.

Looking around the room at the Double Tree hotel in Tallahassee Monday, the crowd that had signed up for the Justin Sayfie "What Is the Future of Medical Marijuana in Florida?" forum showed little sign that many dissenters attended. A few did, but they stayed silent.

Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith

A year ago it was the pro-medical-marijuana folks who were slinking into silence. 

In a period of three months, a handful of legislators and victims' families have state lawmakers, law enforcers and at least some medical doctors on the same page, cheering for cures, looking at a reality that says, there is benefit in medical marijuana.  

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and sponsor of the House medical marijuana bill, gives the lion's share of the credit to his co-sponsor, Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation.

"Rep. Edwards can be annoyingly persistent," Gaetz said, explaining why he came to sponsor the House CBD medical marijuana bill. "She pestered me with emails every day for about three months."

Edwards had a medical marijuana bill ready to go as the 2013 legislative session began, but it went nowhere -- never got a hearing. After that, she leaned into research on the Internet, looked at the studies, assessed what and where there were results. She had promised constituents with sick children answers.

Gaetz and Edwards together have given the legislative push a bipartisan flavor. And because they had a head start on the Senate, the upper chamber was primed and ready when patients told their stories of fear and the sense of futility that led many to give up on Florida, head for greener, medical marijuana-friendly pastures in Colorado. 

Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who has filed medical marijuana bills covering 24 ailments for four years in a row, was the third forum panelist. He believes he's a winner whatever happens. "My bill won't pass," he said, "but the constitutional amendment on November's ballot definitely will." He said he's a proponent especially of the Gaetz-Edwards bill. "The House bill allows people to grow their own (marijuana). Even the constitutional amendment doesn't do that."

A year ago, who would have expected the president of the Florida Senate, Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, whose constituents, some have said, lean so far right they've fallen off the grid, would be sitting in the middle of the action, nodding, even clapping on occasion, in the positive spirit of the moment.

"My own view on the medical uses of cannabis has changed over the last few years," Gaetz told me when the meeting had ended. "My involvement in hospice care caused me to take a look at pain and suffering in a new way. I'm not a clinician, but I've seen so much in terms of what treatments physicians use, what works and what doesn't."

Said President Gaetz, "Medical marijuana brings people together for different reasons. For so many of us, I think, it was the compelling stories of families who tried everything else."

Matt Gaetz said he expects the House bill to start looking like the Senate bill. Sponsored by Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, the Senate bill goes further. It allows for a medicinal marijuana “dispensary” system.

The audience applauded when all three legislators agreed that the medical-marijuana door had to be left open for an expansion of diseases -- that so much more research is needed on cannabis' effect not just on seizures, but on trauma, cancer, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, eye disease, Alzheimer's and others.

Not only is medical marijuana a presence in 19 states, its profile has been elevated by "trusted" personalities looking to explore its possibilities. Though it didn't come up at the forum, a month ago, for instance, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would consider allowing players to use medical marijuana if the medicine supports its potential benefits, especially as it relates to concussion treatment.

Goodell was motivated by a Harvard professor who believes that the medicine will only get to that point if appropriate studies are funded. And the Harvard professor believes the NFL should fund a study to see if medical marijuana can treat or prevent chronic traumatic encephelopathy.

Other salient points at Monday's forum:

-- The federal government has held a patent on marijuana for three decades, but "squandered the time and money they could have used on research, on addiction and substance abuse instead," said Edwards.

-- The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences should -- and wants to -- embark on marijuana growing, research and clinical trials. But if they do -- at least, as long as cannabis remains illegal -- they would forfeit significant federal-grant money. Said Edwards, "Why would I not want a corridor for research here like they have in North Carolina?" It would mean jobs, money and prestige for Florida, she said.

-- Said Matt Gaetz, "There's such hypocrisy in our drug policy." We live in a society, he said, where "Oxycontin has medical value but marijuana doesn't." Clemens agreed: "A lot of drugs out there kill people, but marijuana isn't one of them."

-- All three agreed that the Legislature has to work quickly as policymakers. "After the amendment passes, we'll have one shot next year to get it right," said Clemens. "We have decisions to make. For instance, are we going to tax it? We don't tax medicine in Florida. But what about this?"

-- Edwards said she wants to work next in her policymaker role. "I want to find out, are fewer people dying of cancer in California? Why do some people become addicted to prescription drugs? In Palm Beach County since the crackdown on pill mills, heroin use is up."

-- "Our House bill is going to add some training to the Senate bill for those who will write prescriptions," Matt Gaetz said. The question remains, who will write them -- just medical doctors, or chiropractors and physician's assistants as well?

Many questions remain. The impetus for Charlotte's Web or CBD marijuana is unlikely to stall now, but it might slow in the larger theater of the House and Senate. And certainly these proponents want to be further along in providing answers. But they've come a very long way and I can't imagine what could stop the drum roll now.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. 

Comments (19)

1:43PM APR 8TH 2014
This is an interesting article. The amount of support is growing, but with 60% of the popular vote required, I do not think we will get that in this state. Medicinal Marijuana bills have never passed with that amount of support. While the majority may still be in favor, sixty-percent seems like a mountain to overcome.
Florida Medical Cannabis Association
12:38PM APR 7TH 2014
Our not for profit trade association is working hard to get accurate and relevant information out there regarding the medical benefits of cannabis! Please check out our website at: & like us on facebook.
Medical Cannabis Domains
11:54AM APR 4TH 2014
We are all pushing hard for legalization here in Florida so our patients who need gentle natural alternatives to harsh addictive medications (like opiates) can have the care and safe access they deserve to Medical Cannabis - just like other places in the United States. Our company has donated heavily to the website and also volunteered a lot of time and resources over the last few years and it's nice to see a light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully our state can come out of the darkness and into the SUNSHINE. After all we are the "sunshine state", not only will this help thousands and thousands of residents in need but it will also be a huge boost to the economy here and tax revenue for Florida.

Many small business owners also are very interested in becoming involved, securing your brand and business name online for the market is a very important and crucial step as this is where everyone goes nowadays for information and resources (online) we have an extensive list of digital realestate listed up at under the Florida List we have hundreds of the best premium FL names right now but they are going fast so do not delay if you plan to be in the Cannabiz here! keep fighting the good fight out there and tell everyone you know to vote YES on #2 in November! Any purchases made in the next 6 months regarding the state of Florida and we will kindly donate 10% to with no limit on the benefits to them. Please let us know that you were referred to us by Sunshine State News!

Be well and legalize it!
10:43AM APR 3RD 2014
if i cannot find a way, i will make one
10:42AM APR 3RD 2014
the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING! 13

not stunning to me...been working on 1000s of tricks and techniques on my cali conservatives for decades...just applying them to the country now

"any doctor against marijuana is a doctor of death" - cali secret 420

from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, 2016 elections, out with the old, in with the new

20 years behind us southern states, sad and scary....nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…the top ten incarcerators on the planet are southern states...even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol...not 1….the new generations are taking over in the south and they are nothing like their freedom denying parents, let’s ride…

Deaths by Alcohol and Tobacco: Millions
Deaths by Prescription Drugs: Quadrupled in last decade
Deaths by Guns: Millions
Deaths by the food we are fed: Millions
Deaths by Marijuana: 0, ever...they are killing my American family while denying freedom

love and freedom forever

4:30PM APR 1ST 2014
And children should be taught that it is adult medicine, just like you wouldn't let your child administer any medication, such is the case as this. Off limits. Period.
4:30PM APR 1ST 2014
And children should be taught that it is adult medicine, just like you wouldn't let your child administer any medication, such is the case as this. Off limits. Period.
4:27PM APR 1ST 2014
I am finally happy to see people treat cannabis for what it is - a medication - not a joke. People have to understand that the crossbreeding and science has formulated different varieties to cure a variety of medical conditions. For instance, if you have sleeping problems, you will need to use a different strain than that used to enhance mood, energy, and upbeat - not the "Beevis and Butthead" stuff like people keep acting that it is. I am amazed at what there is to offer once this gets passed. I have back problems, and a rub of oil that would ease the pain, but not make me "stoned" should be allowed. California and Colorado is not what I see the legislature creating.
4:18PM APR 1ST 2014
I think everyone is missing the point. Marijuana is going to become legal in the next few years. Florida should legalize it now. We are a tourist state. We sell pleasure. We have Disney, beaches, restaurants, gambling, resorts etc... . We have a world market of tourists.
We have the sun, lots of it. Don't need lights to grow marijuana. Florida could become the cannabis capital of the world.
The politicians would have so much tax money they would not know what to do with it all.
Unfortunately our politicians want to study and see what the other states are going to do. By that time, we will be playing catch-up.
Let's not be known as the chad state, let's be known as the "Vacation State"
1:51AM APR 3RD 2014
So true, the revenue would be unreal.
12:07PM APR 1ST 2014
My wife woke up ill this morning. At first I was suspicious that she was just malingering, but during her interrogation she convinced me that she’s really very ill by exhibiting actual symptoms of being ill. I said that I was really worried, and asked her if she wanted me to call a politician in for a medical consultation. But she’s still not sold on the assertion that politicians are better qualified to practice medicine and insisted on seeing an M.D. Women!

Now I’m going to have to lobby her to at least get a second opinion from a politician. Even if they can’t cure her, they can at least pass a law which would do so. I may have to put my foot down and insist. After all, it’s for her own good.

But seriously, what about the children? What kind of message does it send the children if she lallygags and acts like a layabout all day without consulting a politician? Doesn’t anyone care about the children?
Independent Thinker
11:57AM APR 1ST 2014
What's the mystery? All these jokers know many of their names will be on the ballot with medical marijuana next fall. The only real question is whether Rick Scott will do the same backflip he did on Medicaid expansion and come on board with this also. Sure would make his characterization of Crist as an "opportunist" seem lame if he did, though.
11:00AM APR 1ST 2014
of course they are...i plan on having my second home in florida and they know i'll be coming for them if they don't.....

go florida, you could lead the south by miles, you are our only hope
8:56AM APR 1ST 2014
Political s are finding there is far more money in legal pot than there will ever be in the law enforcement of it and with out destroying family's with draconian laws.
Fran k
8:09AM APR 1ST 2014
Conservatives are all about freedom so why the surprise that they support the Medical Marijuana initiative?

Governmental restrictions on this are PATHETIC!
7:54PM APR 1ST 2014
No conservatives SAY they are about freedom but are really about curtailing freedoms.
10:38AM APR 1ST 2014
Except they do not Frank. Some republicans are supporting a very narrow view of Medical Marijuana. The bills being considered will help only a small segment of those who will be helped by Medical Marijuana. Remember, it was Bondi who attempted to block Amendment 2 from being on the ballot. Her reasoning was because a Doctor could write a script. Yet, she fought obamacare because it was goverment intrusion into healthcare, that it was gvmt getting between a Doctor and a Patient. Direct opposite reasoning, which is, hypocritical. The Republicans in FL have seldom lived up to the stated policies of the GOP, choosing instead to always play partisan politics. The only solution is for everybody to Vote YES on 2 and take the politicians out of the equation. In FL the Republican Party is. . . .Pathetic
7:53AM APR 1ST 2014
There are a few reasonable politicians, although many Republicans are still playing partisan politics. I believe the only reason anything has happened in Tally is due to the Medical Marijuana Amendment 2. The possible benefit for Crist has republicans running scared. That the only strain receiving serious consideration is Charlottes Web is a shame. While it will help a few, many more will be left out and at legal risk everyday.The job is not done until every patient that wants to use this natural plant to treat their medical problems is free and able to do so. I ask that everybody VOTE YES ON 2 and allow Medical Marijuana. Thank You
7:45AM APR 1ST 2014
nice to see leaders from both parties agree on SOMETHING. 82% of Florida says yes.. so as a politician they are not stupid.~~ Too bad you don't see WILL WEATHERFORD's name in there, He NEVER listens to his voters... Too bad

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