Sen. Rob Bradley was the man in the arena at Tuesday’s Health Policy Committee meeting. He had to beat back challenges from two factions wanting changes in his SB 7066, a Charlotte’s Web fix (he prefers not to call it a glitch bill) and address complaints from stakeholders wanting an end to the bickering between regulators and growers over rules getting medicinal cannabis oil to the market.
“We need to bring this to a close. Give us a regulatory structure so we can move forward for everyone,” Florida Medical Cannabis Association lobbyist Louis Rotundo said before the meeting’s start.
On Jan. 1 regulations were to be in place making medicinal cannabis oil available to treat children with a severe form of epilepsy. The Department of Health and stakeholders including, growers, investors and patient advocates have been unable to agree on rules to award licenses to grow marijuana and process the oil from the plant. A court threw out one set of regulations. Three legal challenges have been filed against a second set DOH has proposed.
“Round and round we go always ending up where we started. Everyone is looking for the perfect rather than doing the good,” Rotundo said.
Annelise Clark is among the people urging lawmakers to do the good. She wants lawmakers to go further in lifting the prohibition on marijuana.
“They have a clause in the law that doctors can order the cannabis only after all other things have been tried. My daughter tried all the alternatives and became a vegetable,” said Clark, who showed lawmakers photos of her 10-year-old daughter before she became sick and in a vegetative state.
“No one should have to suffer like that,” Clark said.
Sen. Oscar Braynon made a run at the 30-year eligibility requirement for growers’ licenses to cultivate marijuana. Braynon argued the rule was discriminatory and limited opportunities.
Howard L. Gunn, a grower from Ocala said he understood that growing cannabis is complicated but there is no reason to think it takes 30 years to figure out how to do it. Gunn, representing the Black Farmers Association said that 30 years ago black growers were emerging from share cropping and dealing with institutional racism while trying to go into business.
“There were no black growers back then,” Gunn said.
Bradley said he was no fan of the 30-year rule, was willing to have the discussion with the House on changing it but wanted to keep the bill moving. Braynon said he was taking Bradley at his word and withdrew the amendment.
Bradley also had to deflect a move to increase the THC level above the 0.8 percent authorized. Patient advocates argue that research indicates higher levels of THC help MS, neurological and cancer patients.
“THC is the most important component of this medicine,” said Jeff Miller a St. Petersburg pharmacist.
“Low-THC is not going to help people. It’s about a balance. It’s not all about CBDs, it’s not all about THC, it’s not about people getting high: You got to get over that stigma,” said Dennis Deckerhoff, a Tallahassee parent.
“Do the right thing for people like my son who is suffering,” Deckerhoff said. “A perfect kid by the way until he was 6 months old, when he started suffering from seizures. He will be 20 this year and still has seizures every day, hundreds of them. I want the medicine here in Florida — with THC.”
Bradley argued the research data is incomplete but that SB 7066 is a measured first step that will enable the research and help lawmakers to decide whether higher levels of THC is good policy.
“I think the law should match the science,” Bradley said. “Lets get the infrastructure in place. Let’s get the database in place.”
Bradley added that he was one never to say, but that other states did not limit THC and are experiencing problems. Bradley said the proposal enables a Florida medicinal marijuana industry to crawl before beginning to walk and to walk before it runs.
“It’s a balance. Are we perfect? No! I just don’t want to go from 0 to 100,” Bradley said.
Health Policy passed the measure with a unanimous vote. Bradley promised to continue the discussion with stakeholders and the House as the proposal moves through the Legislature.