TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- With just one "no" vote, a Florida House panel signed off on a measure Wednesday that would legalize a strain of non-euphoric marijuana used to treat children wracked by potentially deadly seizures.
House Criminal Justice Chairman Matt Gaetz, the sponsor of the bill known as "Charlotte's Web," called the bipartisan support historic because it's the first time in modern history that the Florida Legislature has advanced any marijuana-related measure.
"That's because people here in Tallahassee have realized that we can't just have a bumper-sticker approach to marijuana where you're either for it or against it. Not all marijuana is created equally. Here, this strain of marijuana can do a lot of good and has a very low likelihood of abuse," Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said.
Gaetz's subcommittee approved the proposal (HB 843) after nearly an hour of testimony from parents and other advocates who believe the strain of marijuana called "Charlotte's Web" can dramatically reduce seizures in children with a rare form of epilepsy.
Some Republican leaders, including Gaetz's father, Senate President Don Gaetz, have galvanized support around the Charlotte's Web measure as an alternative to a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow doctors to write prescriptions for marijuana. Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, also the boss of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, is pushing the ballot initiative, which will go before voters in November.
Under the proposal approved Wednesday, strains of marijuana that contain .8 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component in marijuana, and more than 10 percent of the derivative cannabidiol, or CBD, would be legal, along with the seeds of the plant. Supporters of the proposal say the amount of THC in Charlotte's Web, which is not smoked but is ingested as an oil or paste, is not enough to get users high. The proposal also includes $1 million for research on the substance.
Peyton and Holley Moseley's 10-year-old adopted daughter RayAnn is one of about 125,000 Florida children diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that can cause hundreds of seizures a day and does not respond to other treatments. The couple said they traveled to Colorado, where Charlotte's Web is manufactured, and met with parents of other children who had responded to the treatment.
"These kids can walk now. These kids can talk now. These kids are saying 'I love you' to their parents for the first time," Peyton Moseley told the panel.
The Florida Sheriffs Association is also backing the measure, which was amended on Wednesday to put the burden on people who are arrested or investigated to prove that the drugs they are holding meet the THC and CBD levels laid out in the bill.
Questioned by his colleagues about enforcement issues, Matt Gaetz said he hoped that state attorneys and other officials would not bring charges against growers and manufacturers or the physicians who distribute the substance to their patients.
But lobbyist Louis Rotundo, who represents a newly formed coalition of businesses and land owners interested in Charlotte's Web, said the bill as passed poses problems for potential growers and suppliers.
"Frankly, telling me that it's at the discretion of my state attorney or my sheriff, good men and women that they may be, leaves me a little queasy. I don?t think that you get a loan from a bank on a situation like that," Rotundo said.
Rep. Gayle Harrell cast the only vote against the measure after asking a series of questions highlighting concerns about a lack of regulation over the substance, especially compared to other drugs.
"If you really want to solve a problem and just not legalize marijuana then you need to do it appropriately," Harrell, R-Stuart, said.
But Rep. Dave Hood, R-Daytona Beach Shores, argued the bill is a "no-brainer" and implied that it does not go far enough to help cancer survivors like himself whom studies show can benefit from traditional medical marijuana.
"It is absolutely an abomination ... for us to continue to have unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious rules that relate to marijuana," said Hood, a lawyer.
The measure has two more committee appearances before heading to the House floor. A Senate companion (SB 1030) has not yet had a committee hearing.