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State Lawmakers Trying To Untangle Charlotte's Web

Non-euphoric marijuana was supposed to be available January 1 of this year.
Non-euphoric marijuana was supposed to be available January 1 of this year.
Non-euphoric marijuana was supposed to be available January 1 of this year.
Credit Scott Beale via Flickr
Non-euphoric marijuana was supposed to be available January 1 of this year.

With another challenge of the Department of Health’s medical marijuana rules filed, state lawmakers are trying to untangle the mess that has become of last year’s so-called Charlotte’s Web law.  The Senate Regulated Industries committee took up the matter Tuesday.

Before the ink was dry on last year’s Senate bill 1030, The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, critics were arguing further legislation would be necessary to implement the measure.  As the department of Health attempted to create rules for the new law, it became clear those critics had a point.  Rules were written, challenged, struck down and then revised in a negotiated rulemaking meeting earlier this year. 

And still, some argued further legislation was necessary.  

“The Department does not think that’s true,” Patricia Nelson said at the conclusion of the negotiated rulemaking process.  Nelson heads up the Department’s Office of Compassionate Use.  

“The Department will be moving forward aggressively to get this finished, and I don’t think that we need that change in statute,” she said.  “I think our rules that we developed at the negotiation are great.”

But then on March 11, a patient filed a second challenge to the Department’s rules.  So now, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park), one of the prime movers behind last year’s bill, has stepped in with a measure aimed at removing the stumbling blocks that have plagued the roll out of low-THC marijuana. 

He’s very clear—his bill is not a rebuke of the Department’s efforts.

“Personally I’ve come to the conclusion that the DOH was given an impossible task,” Bradley says.  “Surgeon General John Armstrong and his team have done their best, and in fact I’ll say for the past few months they’ve gone above and beyond what anyone could reasonably expect from a government agency to get this job done.” 

“But there’s simply too many inherent flaws in the system that we, the Legislature, set up,” Bradley continues.  “I think DOH needs some help from the Legislature to get this process moving.”

And his changes are significant.  Among the highlights, the original five dispensing organizations has quadrupled to twenty.  It also expands on what conditions are eligible for treatment, and in a big win for incorporated nurseries, it explicitly allows the use of a separate business entity to handle marijuana cultivation.  Some nurseries worried growing the drug would threaten their existing banking relationships. 

Many people applauded Bradley’s actions, but they also argued for allowing more THC—the chemical substance associated with the high marijuana users experience.

Jeffrey Melley, a licensed pharmacist in Florida and New York says, “The efficacy of this medicine is much greater at say a one-to-one ratio or a higher ratio than the law now allows.”  He continues, “I am for the increase in THC content for the therapeutic effect of the drug for the patients.”

Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance says there needs to be more funding for research, and that those studies could lay the foundation for permitting marijuana use for more conditions.

“As policymakers, within three to five years, you would have the data to be able to make important policy decisions on how you go forward about which diseases should be added or deleted,” Bishop says.

Bradley acknowledged the need, admitting marijuana’s classification as a drug has hampered research.

“There is not enough research in this area.  There just isn’t,” Bradley says.  “And the reason there isn’t is because this is a schedule one substance in federal government and state law, and frankly it shouldn’t be, and we should acknowledge that.”

That being said, Bradley continued to argue for delaying broader medical use without stringent THC restrictions.  He says research hasn’t caught up that policy decision yet. 

But during debate, Sen. Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington) pointed to the elephant in the room: the next presidential election is right around the corner, and last year’s medical marijuana amendment came within a hair’s breadth of passing.

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