State lawmakers talk up "Charlotte's Web" and the reality of medical pot in Florida

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With the campaign to get medical marijuana on the ballot this November a dominant story in the Florida media for the past half-year, some legislators in Tallahassee have been moving on their own to legalize a non-euphoric brand of pot which could help thousands of children suffering from epileptic seizures.

This particular strain of weed is known as "Charlotte's Web" and is administered orally as an oil and not smoked. It contains very little THC — the euphoria-causing element that provides the high from smoking pot — but does contain lots of CDB, the non-euphoric cannabidiol. The legislation has been moving up the chain in the Florida House in a bill sponsored by Matt Gaetz ( R-Fort Walton Beach) and Katie Edwards, (D-Plantation) who were joined by state Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) in a public conversation in Tallahassee that was webcast on Justin Sayfie's Sayfie Review blog on Monday afternoon.

"I never would have thought, coming from Florida's most conservative district, that I'd be into giving pot to kids, but there you are," Gaetz began, explaining that there are 125,000 children in Florida who suffer from intractable epilepsy, some of them suffering up to 30 seizures a night. 

Edwards called the "cornucopia of research" on medical pot "fascinating and enlightening" and said there needs to be more focus on "cannabis-derived therapies." 

There are differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, with the Senate's bill specifying that the approved pot would be just for children with intractable epilepsy, whereas the House would be less specific. Representative Gaetz said as we learn more about the potential for non-euphoric marijuana to help people with PTSD, Alzheimer's or brain cancer, it would be unwise for the Legislature to restrict access to those ailments that we only know about now.

When asked by Sayfie why there was need for such legislation, Gaetz explained that parents of children suffering from this ailment can't legally use pot at all and have to travel to Colorado or other states where it is legal to take. 

Edwards and the others bemoaned the "hodgepodge rules and regulations" surrounding marijuana's use for medicinal purposes around the country. By planning for research and infrastructure, she said she could envision a "cannabis corridor in this state for research and development. Why can't I have a Duke University research triangle that brings high-paying jobs in the research sector here to work with an already existing population of Florida families?"

Regarding the Constitutional amendment on medical marijuana that still has to be approved by voters in the fall, Senator Clemens expressed regret that the initiative as written doesn't allow for people to grow their own weed, and he worries how that could affect citizens who won't have close access to a dispensary, which ultimately will be up to the Legislature to decide. 

Sayfie remarked that he hears people saying that whatever happens with Florida's law, they don't want to turn Florida into California, where there is a perception that medical marijuana is a "joke," and is actually a backdoor method for full legalization. Clemens said although the issue is no joke, it's not entirely wrong to assume that people want to have the herb legalized outright.

"The polls are more and more clear that it's not the great evil in our society," he said, adding that with the proposal polling so well among independents (along with everyone else), he was surprised that Governor Scott immediately criticized it.

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