Florida will join the ranks of states that allow marijuana use for medical purposes with a measure strictly limited to cover only patients with seizures, muscle spasms and cancer, under a bill the Senate sent to the governor Friday for his promised signature.
Gov. Rick Scott told reporters Thursday that he will sign the bill to legalize low-THC cannabis to be used by patients with specific ailments, which passed the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities. The Senate voted for the bill, SB 1030, 30-9 on Friday while the House voted 111-7 on Thursday.
"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,'' Scott told reporters on Thursday. "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."
There was a brief skirmish in the Senate, when South Florida legislators attempted to expand a last-minute amendment added to the bill in the House that requires that the low-THC strain of marijuana may only be grown by nurseries that have been continually operating in Florida for 30 years.
There was no explanation given when the House adopted the amendment by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, but Sen. Rene Garcia said it would exclude every nursery and farmer in South Florida, whose nurseries were shut down by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services could not immediately provide an estimate as to how many nurseries might qualify but only 30 nurseries have been in operation 26 years or longer.
Garcia and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, attempted to amend the bill to broaden the provision to include farmers who have been in operation in Florida for just 10 years.
"We’ve always stood up for the free market, for free competition,'' Garcia said. "How are we now going to say we’re going to limit it to a certain number of growers and not open it up to the industry?"
But Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, a prime sponsor of the bill, warned that any change
He later explained that he was told the reason it was added to the House bill was to discourage "fly-by-night" operators from operating in Florida. "We're not interested in creating a new industry that does not currently exist,'' he said. He pledged to return to the issue next year but "I didn't want the perfect to be an enemy of the good and I didn't want to risk sending it back on what I consider a smaller issue on the grand scheme of things."
More than 125,000 children in Florida suffer from severe epilepsy in Florida and 380,000 adults. The bill authorizes doctors to order low-THC cannabis for use by patients suffering from chronic seizures, persistent muscle spasms, including Lou Gehrig’s disease and other chronic conditions, and cancer.
Families of children with severe epilepsy worked all session to persuade the legislature to pass the bill and give them access to the seizure-reducing properties of marijuana extract that appears to be working for children in Colorado.
"It's just been pretty amazing,'' said Holley Moseley of Gulf Breeze, whose 11-year-old daughter RayAnn, suffers from chronic epilepsy and has dozens of seizures a day. "We were talking about the Florida seal and it says 'In God We Trust' and my husband and I have put our trust in God and it just gives me chills to think about."
She and her husband, both health care professionals, adopted their daughter, RayAnn, when she was abandoned by her birth parents at age 2. "She just has this ray about her,'' her mother said.
Kim Dillard and Rebecca Walters of Pensacola, brought their sons who also suffer from intractable epilepsy to the Senate gallery to watch the debate.
"I'm relieved. This was Josh's last chance,'' Walters said after the vote, referring to her 16-year-old son who has had every treatment, including brain surgery, to try to relieve his seizures.
"I'm really kind of surprised they did it,'' said Dillard, whose son, Daniel, 15, grasped Bradley's hand and called him "Senator Big Guy" when he came to greet them after the vote.
"It's such a sensitive issue for legislators and their constituents and I felt they might be afraid to take a stand for it but I'm glad they got over their fears,'' she said. "I'm kind of numb. Is it real?"