With parents and sick children watching from the gallery, the House of Representatives resoundingly passed Florida's first medical marijuana bill in a 111-7 vote. The amended bill returns to the Senate Friday, last day of the session, for final approval.
The hope is that CS/CS/SB 1030 will bring relief to 125,000 children in Florida who suffer seizures from intractable epilepsy. The limited strain of unsmokable marijuana does not produce a "high."
Changes in the bill from the Senate version, added by House sponsor Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and co-sponsor Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, include an expansion of medical conditions to which low-THC, unsmokable marijuana can apply -- cancer and chronic neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy and Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Going into the near two-hour discussion, the bill encountered a strong challenge from Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart. Harrell introduced an amendment that virtually rewrote the bill.
She said she wanted a bill that would help children with intractable epilepsy but it should be "done correctly" -- involving the Food and Drug Administration, clinical trials, steps along the way to approval new drugs necessarily take.
Her amendment failed.
Several House members rose to speak in debate. Among them --
-- Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville: "I changed my mind three times today, but I'm voting for it,"
-- Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala: "You are a warrior, Rep. Gaetz ... but this could be the shot that sets off the avalanche and I can't pull the trigger."
-- Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto: "Florida will show the whole nation we care."
-- Katie Edwards, D-Plantation: "Vote yes ... Light up this board green! No pun intended."
-- Matt Gaetz, looking up into the gallery: "We would not be here without the love of these parents ... It's a special kind of love that these children instill in us."
The bill includes $1 million in nonrecurring general revenue appropriated to the Department of Health for the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program. It is targeted entirely to be used for research of cannabidiol and its effect on intractable childhood epilepsy.
Gov. Rick Scott isn't entirely happy with the bill because, like Harrell, he prefers to see the program under FDA auspices. But he hasn't threatened to use his veto.
Nevertheless, in his bill closing, Gaetz spoke to families in the gallery: Get eyeball-to-eyeball with (the governor) and move his heart the way youve moved ours.
Families waiting for drug left the gallery with broad smiles.
"This is the first time I got really emotional," said Holley Moseley, comforting 11-year-old daughter RayAnn in a wheelchair beside her. "RayAnn had a number of back-to-back seizures while we were watching today," she said. "I can't believe we're finally going to be able to get a treatment that has worked so well for children with intractable epilepsy."
Rebecca Walters, from Molino near Pensacola, wheeled out son Joshua, 16, and talked about the relief she felt after the vote.
"Josh has Dravet's syndrome. He's been on 10 different seizure medicines and none have helped," she said. "My husband has family in Colorado and if the Legislature had turned us down, we would have moved to Colorado. Charlotte's Web is Josh's last chance," Walters said. "We've already taken a partial of his left temporal lobe out -- his liver had started failing."
Kim Dillard of Pensacola, in the gallery with 15-year-old son Daniel, said, "We are so glad our Legislature has come together on this historical issue."
Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews or at 228-282-2423