Charlotte's Web has legs. The Florida House Criminal Justice subcommittee voted 11-1 on Wednesday to legalize a strain of marijuana designed to be low in psychoactive properties and high in medicinal value known in other states as "Charlotte's Web."
The Republican-dominated committee, comprised of some of the most conservative members of the House, embraced the proposal by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, after hearing heart-wrenching testimony from families whose children suffer from chronic epilepsy. They told the committee that the discovery by a Colorado family, whose daughter's name is Charlotte, of a low-THC and high CBD strain of marijuana is their last best hope.
The bill HB 843 gives anyone caught with this kind of marijuana an affirmative defense to avoid prosecution. It also steers $1 million in research to develop and distribute the specialty marijuana in Florida.
For a committee known for its dense, often tedious scrutiny of legal text, the debate was remarkable.
Rep. Dave Hood, a Republican trial lawyer from Daytona Beach who has been diagnosed with brain cancer, talked about the deceit of the federal government hiding the health benefits of marijuana for his cancer. Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, said he had his mind made up in opposition to the bill, then reluctantly met with a family from Fort Lauderdale, only to be persuaded to support it. Then there's Charles Van Zant, super conservative Republican architect and father of 8, who filed the amendment to raise the THC levels allowed. "We've got a plant here on God's green earth that's got a stigma to it – but it's got a medical value,'' Eagle said, after meeting the Hyman family whose daughter suffers from a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet's Syndrome.
"I don't want to look into their eyes and say I'm sorry we can't help you,'' he said. "We need to put the politics aside today and help these families in need."
The Florida Sheriff's Association, which adamantly opposes a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical use in Florida, surprised many when it choose not to speak up but said only: "in support."
The prevailing support for the bill was summed up by Rep. Dave Kerner, a Democrat and lawyer from Lake Worth. "We sit here we put words on a piece of paper and they become law,'' he said. "It's very rare as a legislator that we have an opportunity with our words to save a life."
The only opposing vote came from Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, whose husband is a doctor and support the Florida Medical Association.
"I can't imagine how desperate you must be and I want to solve this problem for you,'' she told the families, with tears in her eyes. But, she said the bill had "serious problems" and allowed for a drug to be dispensed without clinical trials and the kind of research that is needed to protect patients from harm.
"I really think we need to address this using science,'' she said and offered a plan for pilot program. "This bill takes a step in the right direction. It's much better than the original bill but it's not quite there."