House passes medical marijuana bill while Senate bill still awaits vote

Published March 4, 2016

After legislators offered numerous testimonials about terminally ill friends and family members, the Florida House voted 99-16 Thursday to approve a bill that will allow terminally ill patients to obtain full-strength medical marijuana, dramatically expanding the potential number of patients that can legally obtain cannabis in Florida

The bill, HB 307, also tightens the regulations for the manufacture of non-euphoric cannabis under the 2014 law. That law allows patients with seizure disorders, such as intractable epilepsy, and cancer to have access to low-THC cannabis. It authorizes one grower in each of five regions of the state to grow, manufacture and dispense the low-THC product.

The latest bill attempts to build on that law, which has been delayed in getting the product to patients because of regulatory delays and lawsuits. The 2014 law intended to have doctors subscribe low-THC products for patients more than a year ago.

Meanwhile, a Senate companion measure, SB 460, was on the Senate's calendar Thursday but with nearly 30 amendments could get bogged down. Senate President Andy Gardiner said he hopes to take it up for a debate on Friday.

Both the House and Senate bills offer the opportunity to allow more licenses for nurseries that would be able to grow and distribute the non-euphoric types of cannabis.

Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said she was torn by the bill and disagreed with the premise that this was "medical marijuana" because it fails to meet the review standards needed to establish safe and effective medicine, but she still voted for the bill.

Rep. Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderhill, also supported the bill but complained about the fact that the current law allows only five farmers to qualify to grow the marijuana while many others, including black farmers, did not qualify for the requirement they be in continuous operation for the past 40 years.

"When we are picking winners and losers in businesses, we are not being fair and this legislature needs to be fair,'' Rogers said.

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, whose husband died of cancer, urged lawmakers not to vote against the bill because it is not perfect.

"We have people out there dying and we have people out there suffering,'' she said. She commended the families of patients suffering from epilepsy for their courage to tell their stories to lawmakers and noted that some lawmakers complained that it was too emotional for them.

"Sometimes it takes that emotion for us to get off our butts and do something," she said.

Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, got teary-eyed and said the value of the bill is to bring some relief the terminally ill. noted that she has "lost too many friends to cancer in this process who have said, why not me,'' she said.

She said that too much of the debate and the subsequent regulatory fight has focused on "who gets to grow, who gets to make money, who gets to invest,'' she said. "The hell with them. Who gets to benefit? That's where our efforts and focus need to be."