THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 1, 2014..........Gov. Rick Scott said he will sign a medical marijuana bill poised to pass the Florida Senate, after the measure received overwhelming support Thursday from the House as children whose lives hang in the balance looked on.
"I'm a parent and a grandparent. I want to make sure my children, my grandchildren, have the access to the health care they want. So, I know the House has passed the bill. It's going back to the Senate. If it passes, I'm going to sign it," Scott told reporters Thursday evening.
Scott had wanted to limit access to the drug, not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, to patients with a variety of illnesses who are involved in clinical trials.
The version (SB 1030) approved by the House in a 111-7 vote and sent back to the Senate --- with one day left in the annual legislative session --- includes language proposed by Scott but goes much farther.
Under the measure, cancer patients as well as those who suffer from severe muscle spasms or seizures and who do not respond to other treatment would be eligible for a strain of marijuana that is high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Supporters have particularly said the substance could help children who suffer from a type of epilepsy that causes severe seizures.
Doctors, who would have to receive special training, would put their patients on a statewide "compassionate use" registry maintained by the Department of Health. Doctors would also have to submit patients' treatment plans for the substance to the University of Florida pharmacy school. Patients could be charged with misdemeanors for faking a disease and doctors could be charged with misdemeanors for ordering the drug for patients who don't fit the criteria.
The House also added new requirements for growers. Under the proposal, only large, commercial nurseries would be eligible to grow the low-THC cannabis. Growers must possess a valid certificate of registration issued by the Department of Agriculture for the cultivation of more than 400,000 plants, post a $5 million bond, and have operated as a registered nursery in Florida for at least 30 years. Growers would also manufacture the low-THC substance, usually delivered in paste or oil form, and serve as distribution centers. The state would authorize five distribution centers spread throughout the state.
Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, said about three dozen nurseries would fit the criteria spelled out in his amendment.
From the public gallery, a handful of Panhandle families --- including Holley Moseley and her daughter, RayAnn --- watched House members debate the issue. The Moseleys have led the charge in the Capitol on behalf of about 150,000 families whose children could benefit from the treatment.
After the vote, an emotional Holley Moseley could not hold back tears when surrounded by reporters. Moseley said that RayAnn had suffered numerous seizures during the hours that she and her daughter sat waiting for the vote.
"It really was overwhelming. I've kind of held it together until this point. We're so close," Moseley said. "Just sitting there next to her, and seizure after seizure. It just makes it so real."
The seeming contradiction of Florida's conservative, Republican-dominated Legislature approving any pot-related legislation was not lost on some of the members.
Republican Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who returned to the House less than a month ago after winning a special election, said he was "both skeptical and concerned" when he learned about the issue coming up in the Legislature.
"I can hardly believe I'm saying this. … I'm going to vote for the bill because I think it's the right thing to do," Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, said.
But, as limited as the bill is, authorizing medical marijuana "could be the rifle shot that starts an avalanche," objected Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.
"I pray it's not," he said. "But because of that risk of setting off that giant avalanche … that weight and my responsibility is a knot in my stomach that says you started that. I simply can't pull the trigger."
But Rep. Matt Gaetz, the bill's sponsor, said he recognizes that some critics say lawmakers are sending the message that marijuana use is acceptable.
"But I look up at the gallery at these children who are racing to their deaths and I just can't balance the impact of their life against that argument. We are being as cautious as we can," Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said. "That's why we've taken this cautious step only with tightly controlled non-euphoric marijuana. I'm sure it's not perfect. But it is my best effort … to do right by those very ill children without cracking the door open too much."
The Senate is expected to pass the measure on Friday and send it to the governor.