State News
5:32 pm
Mon April 21, 2014

Compassionate Or 'Too Edgy'? Medical Marijuana Bill Advances To Full Fla. House

Rosalyn Deckerhoff testifies before the House Judiciary Committee about her son's seizure treatment, which has included surgery separating parts of his brain.
Credit The Florida Channel

A passionately, tearfully debated bill legalizing non-smoked medical marijuana is headed to the Florida House floor after passing its final committee today. But some who voted for the measure warned they could not continue supporting it in its current form.

During Monday’s debate, several legislators acknowledged they’re part of a national sea change on the issue of medical marijuana.

Rep. Elaine Schwartz (D-Hollywood) brought up today’s “Diane Rehm Show” discussion of America’s attitude shift toward marijuana.

“This morning on NPR was a full report was a full report—well, I don’t know how full it was, but it was really a long time—on the medical marijuana,” she said.

Before Schwartz at the lectern was perhaps the Legislature’s best embodiment of that shift, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R- Fort Walton Beach). He says scientific studies showing non-euphoric cannabis has medical benefits are compelling.

“I don’t necessarily believe, as an article of faith, that every one of those assertions is true, but I also wouldn’t have believed a year ago that I would be standing before you to liberalize marijuana laws with the assistance of Chairman Baxley,” he said.

Gaetz has been pushing the bill largely on behalf of children with constant seizures. Many of their parents have traveled to Colorado to see how cannabis oil helps children there.

Tallahassee’s Dennis and Rosalyn Deckerhoff told the committee their son is out of other options.

“I know there’s a lot of compassion in all of you, a lot of compassion in every one of us. If you were in this situation yourself with an 18-year-old child and had been through this since he was 6 months old and tried everything including sawing your child’s brain in half,” he plead.

Judiciary Committee Chair Dennis Baxley acknowledged, “That emotion is extremely appealing. And I can see how this whole issue got wrapped around Representative Gaetz’s heart.”

But although Baxley said he applauds the intention of the bill’s nearly 30 cosponsors, he couldn’t vote for the bill.

“I really think that this is a little too edgy that it’s gonna cut loose…something…that I don’t want to be the person that started it,” he concluded.

Baxley and two other Conservative Central Florida lawmakers voted against the bill, even though it’s managed to win endorsements both from doctors and law enforcement officers.

Florida Surgeon General John Armstrong also expressed reservations, giving the committee this warning: “The low-THC cannabis that would be given has variable and unknown content. The safety is unknown. And the time to establish such a structure is unknown—likely more than 18 months.”

The bill creates a state health department Office of Compassionate Use to oversee the dispensation of non-smoked cannabis oil. Patients with serious diseases could enter the state-monitored program with a prescription. They’d be required to receive their medication from one of four dispensaries where the cannabis plant would be grown and processed.

Rep. Charles McBurney (R-Jacksonville) says he won’t continue supporting the bill on the House floor if sponsors don’t better define which serious medical conditions would make patients eligible.

“I just don’t want us to be another Colorado,” he said.

The bill heads to the floor at the same time a Senate medical marijuana bill is scheduled for its final committee stop Tuesday. That version of the measure limits cannabis oil treatment only to patients with persistent seizures.

And regardless of whether the measures pass, Florida voters will choose whether to legalize medical marijuana with a constitutional amendment this fall. If approved, it could allow smoked marijuana use for all debilitating conditions.