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Medical Cannabis Sparks Heated Debate In Florida House


A heated debate in the Florida House concerning terminally-ill patient care ended unfavorably to medical marijuana proponents Wednesday, but the issue continues to make waves in the legislature.

Rep. Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota) presented the House floor with a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use experimental medications as treatment. Pilon says the measure would also cover liability concerns.

“There’s no liability for the doctors, their Medicaid certificates, manufacturers of the drug are covered… they may charge for it or they may not,” says Pilon.

The drugs must be identified in at least the first phase of FDA testing. And Pilon says Florida would be the 12th state to approve the measure.

But things got tense when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) attempted to amend the bill to add medical cannabis as an option for terminally-ill patients.

“If we’re willing to say things that have gone through the first phase of clinical trials are okay, then why wouldn’t we also say that a substance that has been legalized in at least 20 states in this country would also be available for this very small group of people,” says Gaetz.

Rep. John Wood (R-Winter Haven) sponsored a bill at the start of session that sought to legalize certain kinds of medical marijuana for suffering patients. The measure was filed jointly with Representative Greg Steube who said patients could use marijuana only if it is not smoked.

But Wood says Gaetz’ amendment is an overreach.

“Don’t you think an issue as important as this should be run through the committee process to vet all the implications of what you’re trying to achieve here,” says Wood.

Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Sunrise) says after fighting for medical cannabis legislation last session with no progress, it’s hard to see the issue swept under the rug.

“We have broken our promise and have delivered the most vulnerable patients, nothing,” says Edwards. “We haven’t even allowed bills to clarify some of the very serious issues raised by the department of health, administrative law judges and patients. Not one committee hearing, not one bill moving forward… nothing.”

The amendment was voted down after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Pilon, spoke out against it.

And although Gaetz withdrew the medical cannabis clause, marijuana legislation could still see the light before the end of session. A bill to reform the state’s low-THC cannabis law was temporarily postponed on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Keta Browning is a senior Broadcast Journalism student and reporter at Florida A&M University. Aside from her contributions to WFSU News, Keta also serves as an on-air personality for FAMU's college station WANM 90.5 FM. Born and raised in Ocala, FL, she aspires to pursue a passionate career in radio and/or entertainment journalism.