After decades of the war on drugs, countless efforts to decriminalize dope, and tens of thousands of drug arrests, Florida has finally reached a turning point. The marijuana movement has reached critical mass.
In January, the state supreme court ruled that voters can decide whether or not to legalize medical marijuana in November. Some Floridians may not even have to wait that long. Yesterday, one of the legislature's most conservative committees voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill allowing certain strains of marijuana for epilepsy patients.
"Frankly, we need to be a state where guys like me, who are cancer victims, aren't criminals in seeking treatment I'm entitled too," said Dave Hood, a Republican trial lawyer on the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice.
The bill sailed through the committee with an 11-1 vote.
"That's because people here in Tallahassee have realized that we can't just have a bumper-sticker approach to marijuana where you're either for it or against it," Rep. Matt Gaetz, the bill's sponsor, told the Herald after the meeting. "Not all marijuana is created equally."
A parallel bill also appears likely to clear the Senate. It doesn't hurt that Gaetz's father, Don, is the Senate President.
"Here I am, a conservative Republican but I have to try to be humble about my dogma," the elder Gaetz said.
The sea change in support was most evident in the comments of Rep. Dane Eagle. The Cape Coral Republican said he opposed the bill until meeting with the family of a girl suffering from epileptic seizures that could be prevented with medical marijuana.
"We've got a plant here on God's green earth that's got a stigma to it -- but it's got a medical value,'' Eagle said. "I don't want to look into their eyes and say I'm sorry we can't help you."
Even the Florida Sheriff's Association, which opposes the constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana,announced that it was "in support" of Gaetz's bill.
That's largely because HB 843 is very narrowly tailored. It only applies to particular marijuana strains that are low in THC but high in cannabidiol (CBD), which helps prevent seizures. One such strain already in use in other states is called "Charlotte's Web" after a girl successfully treated with the drug.
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Gaetz's bill would also provide state universities with $1 million to research the drug's effects and its potential distribution here in Florida.