As lawmakers grapple with implementing medical marijuana in Florida, a powerful senator is pushing for the state to set up a pot research program at the Moffitt Cancer Center.
State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is working on legislation establishing Florida's first major cannabis research center at Moffit, focusing on the drug's potential benefits for cancer patients. He wants to put money in the state budget to start the program, as well.
"We have always played a role in those types of research facilities," Galvano said. "And given the importance of this issue and the massive state role in establsihing the parameters for medical marijuana, having the state participate in the research side of it seems very appropriate."
Moffitt spokesman Steve Blanchard confirmed that Galvano had been in touch with Moffitt.
He called the conversations "very preliminary."
"Right now, Moffitt still does not advocate the use of medical marijuana," Blanchard said, noting that the drug is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "But we would be willing to help the legislature research whether it is effective."
Galvano, who first mentioned the research center plan in a Bradenton Herald editorial board meeting Monday, hopes additional information could help fill a void as lawmakers debate marijuana policy issues, as well as aiding medical professionals.
In recent years, lawmakers have passed two major medical marijuana bills, and the overwhelming victory in the Nov. 8 election of a constitutional amendment expanding medical cannabis means lawmakers will continue addressing the issue.
"Most of the direction we have been given medically has come from testimony and other anecdotal types of evidence," Galvano said. "With information comes power, and it will help us choose the right decisions."
More research could also help sway lawmakers who say they oppose medical marijuana because there has not been enough research into the drug's effects, Galvano said.
He could face an obstacle from the federal government, however. Because marijuana remains an illegal substance, the Drug Enforcement Administration used to block universities' and other institutions' requests to grow and possess marijuana for research purposes. The Obama administration recently announced it would roll back those restrictions.
However, with President-elect Donald Trump naming notably anti-marijuana Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general and uncertainty surrounding other high-level appointments, it is not clear whether President Barack Obama's rule will remain intact.