The Senate Health Policy Committee unanimously approved a medical marijuana bill Tuesday that takes a bolder path to legalization than its House companion.
As they did for the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee meetings, parents of severely epileptic children told stories of exhausting all traditional treatment and having nowhere to turn. Members of the Senate panel were visibly moved.
"No one can sit here and listen to this with a dry eye," said Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, bill co-sponsor and chairman of the Health Policy Committee.
Instead of merely providing a defense for Dravet Syndrome families arrested for possession of CBD medical marijuana, as HB 843 does, Senate Bill 1030 talks about legalization for patients listed in a statewide "compassionate use" registry.
Only physicians could decide whose names go into the registry; and the physicians would include only the names of individuals who have been "cleared" for "low-THC" treatment.
Doctors would have to keep careful records of how effective the treatment is because the bill requires them to submit detailed quarterly reports to the University of Florida College of Pharmacy. SB 1030 provides $1 million for the college to conduct research on the reports.
The Senate bill would also allow patients to ingest the medicine by vapor, a form of intake not mentioned in the House bill.
Finally, the plant extract, limited to no more than 0.5 percent THC (the euphoric component) and at least 15 percent CBD (the beneficial component), would be available from up to four dispensaries statewide.
The House bill, HB 843, stipulates that strains of marijuana with 0.8 percent or less of the psychoactive component in marijuana, and more than 10 percent of the plant's CBD strain will be legal -- as will its seeds.
Still, bill co-sponsor Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, a former prosecutor and chairman of Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations,said he feels strongly that "any law that would define (families dealing with such suffering) as criminals defies common sense and is a law that should be changed."
The Senate always was expected to be the friendlier chamber to a medical marijuana bill.
For House sponsor Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar and his prime co-sponsor Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, it has been a long, hard slog to change hearts and minds. As Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, said, "I was adamant against 843 when we started ... until I saw and talked with some of these parents. My gosh, I don't know how anyone could cope with as much as they have."
Many details still have to be worked out, especially on the House side, but all lawmakers spearheading the medical marijuana bills say they are driven by the high purpose and genuine good that can come from this legislation.
Meanwhile, a CNN special, "Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports," aired Tuesday night. It featured the stories of many families with severely epileptic children, some from Florida.
Gupta told the story of the Bundukamaras, Franncis, a teacher in Miami-Dade public schools, and Cristi, a nurse practitioner and professor at Miami Dade College. They decided to move their family to Colorado, where they could get the Charlotte's Web marijuana strain their 14-year-old son Reggie needed.
"You basically have two choices -- you try to do it illegally, or you uproot your family, so that's what we did," Cristi tells Gupta. "This was our only hope. We almost lost Reggie a couple of times in the last two years. ..."Reggie was experiencing 25 to 100 grand mal seizures a month when the family arrived in Colorado. On a bad day, he would have hundreds of smaller seizures.
Now on a course of Charlotte's Web, Reggie's medications have been drastically reduced. Last month, he was down to 13 grand mal seizures, and he's eating and communicating again.
Cristi says on camera she's no longer sure she would go home even if Florida passed medical marijuana laws.
"It was so hard to uproot and leave, and we're just getting settled," she says. "But it still feels like home. Florida still feels like home."
CNN is likely to repeat the special.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.