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Florida Senate Approves "Charlotte's Web" Medical Marijuana Bill

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) - Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign a bill that would legalize the use of low-THC marijuana to treat epilepsy and cancer patients.

The Florida Senate passed the bill Friday after the House overwhelmingly passed it Thursday.

"I'm a parent and a grandparent. I want to make sure my children, my grandchildren, have the access to the health care they want," said Gov. Scott.

The bill puts some restrictions on the use of the marijuana strain known as Charlotte's Web. It can have no more than 0.8 percent THC, the chemical that makes users feel high. On average, marijuana has about 15 percent THC, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The strain has normal levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, which is used to treat seizures.

Also, people would not be able to just walk into a doctor's office and get a prescription. Only doctors have who have been providing ongoing treatment of a patient can prescribe it, and only as a last resort if other treatments aren't effective.

The state would also maintain a registry of eligible patients. The marijuana can't be smoked and would be converted into an oil. Only four dispensaries would be allowed in the state and they would be highly regulated.

Patients could be charged with misdemeanors for faking a disease and doctors could be charged with misdemeanors for ordering the drug for patients who don't fit the criteria.

Seth Hyman of Weston was delighted to learn of the success of the Charlotte's Web measure.  His eight year-old daughter, Rebecca, suffers a genetic disorder that causes her to have almost constant, potentially life-threatening seizures.

"We're very excited," Hyman told CBS4 News on Friday.  "We're looking forward to our daughter receiving the medicine she needs to hopefully control or even eliminate her seizures."

Support for the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, was questionable when it was first filed, but became overwhelming after parents of children suffering from seizures pleaded for help during committee hearings.

Still, a handful of House members raised concerns, including a lack of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the drug's use and the possibility that the bill will open the door for wider spread use of marijuana.

While Gov. Scott does support Charlotte's Web, he intends to vote against a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would allow patients to obtain full-fledged medical marijuana.

United for Care, the committee sponsoring the medical marijuana initiative, praised Scott for backing the Charlotte's Web bill, but also said in a press release Thursday, "Although this is a significant step forward for our cause, the only complete and permanent solution for all those Floridians who need cannabis to relieve their symptoms from a wide range of debilitating conditions will be the approval of Amendment 2 by voters in November."

Amendment 2 would legalize the cultivation, purchase, possession and use of marijuana to treat medical conditions when recommended by a licensed physician. The measure would also order the Florida Department of Health to register and regulate producers and distributors of medical marijuana and to issue identification cards to patients and caregivers utilizing marijuana.

Hyman said he supports passage of Amendment 2, legalizing stronger marijuana for medical purposes.  His concern is the low-dose Charlotte's Web might not be strong enough to help his daughter.

The campaign manager for Amendment 2, Ben Pollara, said on Miami Beach Friday that the Charlotte's Web measure buoys the efforts chances.

"It's a great thing.  It's a message from Tallahassee that marijuana is medicine," Pollara said.  "It gives us huge momentum going into November to have the voters of Florida say "yes" on Amendment 2."

Democratic governor candidates Charlie Crist and Nan Rich support the amendment, as does Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie.

If the amendment passes — for which it needs 60 percent of the vote — Florida would become the 21st state plus the District of Columbia to decriminalize marijuana for medical use. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

The amendment names nine specific medical conditions: cancer, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV), acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. But physicians could recommend marijuana for other ailments if, after conducting an examination, they determine cannabis would help patients more than it would hurt them.

To opponents, that last clause allowing for medical marijuana in unspecified cases is a major loophole that could allow the "unfettered" prescribing of the drug.


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