The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

A parallel universe or the Florida House?

10

January

Word is today that people are still wondering if they existed briefly in an alternate reality Thursday as they watched the conservative House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice embrace a proposed committee bill that would decriminalize adultery, co-habitation and a strain of non-euphoric marijuana as part of a sweeping rewrite of the state's sentencing laws

Was this some parallel universe or is it possible that Florida -- and Florida's Legislature -- is progressing? 

Here's our story on the dramatic appeal by parents of children who suffer from rare forms of epilepsy to seek the legalization of a strain of marijuana for medical purposes. But it wasn't the only interesting development.

The marijuana debate Thursday was tempered, with the predictable questions from legislators aligned with the Florida Medical Association asking about the need for double-blind studies before allowing patient access to an herbal remedy. Then Rep. Charles Van Zant spoke. The Palatka Republican and Baptist preacher is possibily one of the most conservative members of the House. “I’m moved by the compassion of all of this,” he said. He said he opposes marijuana but, using it to help desparate parents treat their children's maladies was not "substance abuse. I think it's using this wisely," he said. 

Then there was the skillful handling of the doubters by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, chairman of the committee.

His next door neighbors, the Browning family, were among those who spoke up in favor of allowing for the decriminalization of a strain high in cannabidiol or CBD, the ingredient that controls seizures, but is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, the compound that creates a high. They have bought a House in Colorado, where they plan to take their toddler daughter, who is suffering from debilitating seizures, for treatment -- unless Florida changes their laws.

Gaetz not only anticipated the naysayers, he used his debate and legal skills and set up their arguments, only to skillfully knock them down.  

At one point, he compared the strain known as Charlotte's Web to Centrum Silver -- an over-the-counter vitamin used by older Floridians across the state -- but a product that has never received FDA approval.
 
When the FMA lobbyist said they wanted the marijuana strain to undergo years of pharmaceutical tests before being available for families in Florida, Gaetz shot back:
 
"You would concede, and we have over-the-counter medications, so what is it about Charlotte's Web that is something more,'' he asked. "Go back to the FMA and ask them the questions I asked today: I want to know what is so unique about this substance that these folks are going to wait five, six, eight years for it?" 
 
Then he compared the strain, and its trace amounts of the psychoactive THC, to the hemp products that line the shelves of the local Whole Foods store and called an FDLE agent to the podium and asked her to test the hemp products for THC, to show whether a routine roadside field test already used by law enforcement is effect in testing for the substance. Half of the products tested positive for THC; half of them did not. 

“We sell products today on our shelves which test positive for THC,'' Gaetz said. "So to all of those who would say if pass this law we’ll have all kinds of problems with testing, perhaps we need a new tests anyway if the things we buy on our shelves can generate multiple results."

What was equally surreal, however, was the debate that preceeded the medical marijuana testimony -- all part of the committee's workshop on its sentencing reform overhaul.

First, the committee agreed to decriminalize co-habitation -- a practice that had been outlawed in Florida law although rarely, if ever, enforced.

Removing the cohabitation provision was originally proposed by Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston, as an attempt to update what he considered outdated statutes.

"Does anyone on the committee want to throw anyone in jail for cohabitating?,'' Gaetz asked. When no one responded, he concluded: "Seems to have pretty broad support."

Next, the committee turned to another seemingly outdated law -- the state statute that makes it a second degree misdemeanor to commit adultery -- and agree to decriminalize that as well. 

"For the record I disapprove of adultery,'' said Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, who originally sponsored the proposal. Gaetz noted that Workman had recently been divorced and remarried.

"I do not want to have a  debate on wehtehr it is morally right to cheat on your spouse,'' Workman said. "The fact of the matter is we are no fault divorce state." He noted that while the statute allows someone who cheats on a spouse to go to jail, it is not an issue that can be considered in a divorce proceeding in civil court.

"It's not about whether this state has the right to legalize your bedroom,'' he said. He urged the committee to "have the intestinal fortitude to repeal what is a ridiculous law.”

 

 

[Last modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 5:40pm]

    

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