Bill to let terminally ill use pot advances

Posted at 11:02 PM, Feb 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-04 23:02:57-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A proposal to allow terminally ill patients in Florida to use medical marijuana is headed to the Senate floor.

Sen. Rob Bradley's measure, which passed the Fiscal Policy Committee on Thursday, has gone back to its original intent — allowing those with terminal conditions to use nonsmokable marijuana of all strengths and doses.

Bradley had attempted to add a 22-page amendment to the bill to rectify some regulatory issues that have arisen as the Department of Health attempts to get dispensaries up and running, but the Republican from Fleming Island withdrew the amendment to get things back on track.

"It was becoming clear to me that this was turning into a vehicle for a lot of issues surrounding medical cannabis, and I wanted to refocus the debate and attention on the patients. For today, I wanted it to be about the patients I told I would help that we move their interest forward," Bradley said.

Amendments by Sens. Joseph Abruzzo and Jeff Clemens to increase the number of distributing organizations from five to 30 were voted down in committee. Clemens' proposed amendment to make farmers or "anyone engaged in a similar agricultural activity" eligible to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana was also rejected.

The attempts to expand the Right to Try Act come as legislators look for ways to get the first medical marijuana bill passed two years ago to fruition. The Right to Try Act, which passed last year, allows patients to try any medicine that has passed the first phase of a FDA clinical trial.

When Gov. Rick Scott signed the Compassionate Cannabis Act in 2014, the intention was to get low-THC marijuana into the hands of families to treat certain illnesses, including childhood epilepsy, by January 2015.

More than a year later, that process remains a work in progress. The five distributing organizations were named two months ago, but challenges to their licenses are pending before the Division of Administrative Hearings. On Tuesday, three nurseries filed a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court against the Department of Health and the approved nurseries seeking an injunction against moving forward with operations until DOAH makes its final determination. Costa Nursery in the Southeast Region is the only dispensary not facing any challenges.

DOAH will not begin hearing challenges until April 11. Meanwhile, the approved organizations have until Sunday to seek cultivation authority from the Department of Health.

A similar measure on expanding the Right to Try act is in the House. Rep. Matt Gaetz's bill still has two more committee stops before it can proceed to the floor.

Gaetz, a Republican from Fort Walton Beach, lauded Bradley for getting his measure to the Senate floor and said nothing is off the table as far as trying to get families medical marijuana as safely and efficiently as possible.

"In the forefront of our minds, the act (of 2014) has been fiction to many vulnerable families in need," Gaetz told The Associated Press on Thursday. "We can't allow the state to be stuck in an endless loop at DOAH.

"There's not a single state in the country whose cannabis policy I envy. If someone else had invented the wheel, we could have copied another state, but in my mind most other states have overshot or undershot by wide margin. Have to develop a uniquely Florida system for cannabis for people in need without creating a license for abuse."

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