A Pennsylvania congressman will introduce a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives Monday that could boost, if not entirely come to the rescue of, Florida's suddenly shaky new medical marijuana act.
The three-page bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act -- the federal law that criminalizes marijuana -- to exempt plants with an extremely low percentage of THC, the chemical that makes users high.
If it passes, it likely would allow interstate commerce in a light, non-intoxicating strain of the plant. It also could bring the University of Florida back into the picture to serve as the research component of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014.
And it would represent the first time federal law in America allowed any medical marijuana use.
"No one should face a choice of having their child suffer or moving to Colorado and splitting up their family," bill sponsor Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., told CNN. "We live in America, and if there's something that would make my child better, and they can't get it because of the government, that's not right."
Timing is everything for Perry's bill. It will come before a Congress that may be open to change. Not only in Florida, but across the nation, highly sympathetic patients, families, the communities that support them and a non-euphoric product have proved a popular combination. This year alone some 11 states have passed legislation loosening regulation of cannabis strains with high cannabidiol and/or minimal THC content.
Perry is positive. He believes the bill will attract "overwhelming" support among House members.
"It wouldn't be surprising if we see broad support for this proposal," agreed Mason Tvert, communications director at the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for marijuana and medical marijuana legalization. "If this bill gets support, it will demonstrate that there is recognition of marijuana's medical benefits."
The bill is being called the Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014. Florida knows all about the origin of Charlotte's Web, named after Charlotte Figi, a young Colorado girl whose parents have campaigned nationwide for easier access to medical marijuana after successfully controlling their daughter's seizures with cannabis oil. Charlotte and her parents inspired Florida legislators in March, when they appeared at the first medical marijuana committee meeting. Since her story became known, a growing number of parents have flocked to Colorado, hoping for similar success.
The Charlotte's Web cannabis strain, developed by the Realm of Caring nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs, is in high demand, in part because of the attention it has received in the media. Many families wait months for a batch to be grown and processed into cannabis oil. But Perry's bill would apply to any cannabis strain with a THC content of less than 0.3 percent.
The proposed criteria in the Florida bill are strict. The formula for plants is no more than 0.8 percent THC or less than 10 percent CBD -- or all of the product must be destroyed. Growers are required to inventory their plants, cuttings and seeds daily. Chemical additives must be screened, controlled, and everything -- plants included -- must be kept locked up. Perry's bill, if it passes both chambers and becomes law, probably would not change the Florida criteria.
Just last week, Mary Ann Gosa-Hooks, director of government affairs for University of Florida/IFAS Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences, made it clear to Sunshine State News that the university would not participate in the new medical marijuana research per se. To do so before federal law changed would place millions upon millions of dollars in grant money in jeopardy.
"The university will 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," she said.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books allowing medical marijuana for a variety of conditions. But states can rewrite their laws all they like, federal law stays the same: Marijuana is illegal to grow, sell or use for any purpose. Under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is listed on Schedule 1, meaning it has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."
And that is the problem for the Florida Legislature and UF. They are caught in a Catch-22: Marijuana is restricted mostly because there is little research to support medical uses; research is virtually impossible to conduct because of tight restrictions.
Perry's bill, if successful, could be a game-changer.
In the meantime, Linda McMullan's Office of Compassionate Use claims the state Health Department's rule -- in advance of Friday's rule-making workshop -- will be released for study sometime today, Tuesday, on the office website, www.floridahealth.gov/ocu.
Rep. Katie Edwards, co-sponsor of the bill in the Florida House, said, "We need to see the revised rule. It doesn't seem productive to have a rule-making workshop when the revised rule is unavailable for comment and review in advance of the meeting."
According to CNN, the Food and Drug Administration is conducting a review of scientific evidence to determine whether marijuana warrants looser treatment, though a spokeswoman says there's no set date to complete the analysis. A review in 2011 ended in naught, with the Drug Enforcement Administration leaving marijuana's status as it was.
Nevertheless, actions in Congress of late give Perry and his medical marijuana supporters hope:
- This month the House passed a bill allowing banks to handle cash proceeds from dispensaries and other legal marijuana businesses.
- And the most recent Farm Bill allows industrial hemp -- a strain of cannabis without THC -- to be grown for academic or research purposes. That didn't stop the DEA from seizing a shipment of hemp seeds on their way to the University of Kentucky this spring. In response, the Senate Appropriations Committee, with support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, passed an amendment blocking DEA funds for anti-hemp enforcement.
- In May, the House passed a measure blocking money for DEA raids on marijuana dispensaries that are legal under state law.
- Just last week, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky took it a step further, introducing an amendment to the Jobs Bill that would forbid federal prosecution of doctors and patients whose actions are legal under state medical marijuana laws.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.