One small step by Florida Legislature in right direction on medical marijuana

January 7, 2014 

Surprise, surprise. Florida's Republican-led Legislature has cracked the door on the issue of medical marijuana. Allowing a hearing on any cannabis legislation is a major policy shift -- even if the measure only allows marijuana prescribed for sharply focused medical use.

The rare genetic disorder called Dravet syndrome causes frequent seizures, hearing loss and visual damage -- and one of the many daily epileptic attacks can be suddenly fatal. This frightening prospect for parents has prodded lawmakers to schedule a workshop on the bill this Thursday in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, under the chairmanship of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

We hope compassion is the primary motivation here, but the current political situation must have played a key role, too.

Proponents of medical marijuana have collected more than a million signatures on petitions to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Now, supervisors of elections statewide must verify each one by Feb. 1, with 683,149 certified signatures required to make the ballot.

The proposal's fate also sits in the hands of Florida's Supreme Court, which must rule on whether the amendment's language is misleading or adequate. Attorney General Pam Bondi's office filed the challenge in October, justice heard arguments in December and the court has until April to rule.

A far more forceful political statement came with a voter survey that found a whopping 82 percent of the electorate supports this medical cannabis initiative. Republican voter support stood at 70 percent, and GOP legislative leaders cannot deny that loud message. Amendment proposals require 60 percent of the vote for passage, a figure the electorate would easily surpass.

After three years of refusing to hear medical marijuana bills or place an amendment on the ballot, the Legislature is at least taking one small step in the right direction.

The new measure legalizes a certain strain of marijuana known as Charlotte's Web that has proven to control seizures in children. One politically palatable aspect to this is the strain contains little tetrahydrocannabinal, known as THC. The compound induces a high.

The speciality strain holds an elevated amount of cannabidiol, which controls seizures. CBD can be ingested as an oil or vaporized and administered via feeding tubes.

Current treatments with powerful medications provide slight improvements while weakening organs with toxins. Florida parents and suffering children deserve a better outcome, and the bill should be placed on the fast track.

But this leaves countless other suffering Floridians without the relief that cannabis has been found to provide for cancer, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease and a host of other debilitating conditions.

The Legislature would be wise to listen to the people and take control of the issue by crafting its own legislation.

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