Politics
6:24 pm
Wed January 15, 2014

Florida Senate President Considers Proposal To Legalize Marijuana Strain

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A strain of marijuana that doesn't get users high has been found to help children who suffer from chronic seizures. The strain, known as Charlotte's Web, is currently available only in Colorado. Lawmakers are considering a proposal to make the strain legal in Florida.
Credit tylerericsson1/flickr

Desperate pleas from parents of sick kids got the attention of legislative leaders in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week.  

“We just need solutions quickly. We don’t have time. Time is not on our side,” said Seth Hyman from Weston. “Rebecca unfortunately could have a seizure today back in our hotel and die.”

“All the medications he’s on – it’s not a guarantee. He’s actually suicidal right now,” said Renee Petro from Uthia, talking about her son Branden. “He wants to kill himself. He’s 12.”

The parents want Florida lawmakers to legalize a non-intoxicating form of marijuana that is now only available in Colorado. The drug may have a surprising ally.

Senate President Don Gaetz has spent much of his life promoting hospice, where caregivers treat the symptoms of terminally ill patients. He recalls his uphill battle to bring hospice services to Florida in the late 1970s.

Florida became the first state to make hospice a recognized form of care -- despite opposition from medical and hospital associations.

“Then, when hospices began to operate and use large doses of oral morphine to address chronic pain, there were many in the traditional healthcare community who threw their hands up and said, ‘Well that’s outrageous, you can’t do that, that’s terrible'," Gaetz said. “Now palliative care is an accepted form of treatment.”

Now, Gaetz says he is considering legislation that would bring a strain of marijuana to Florida known as Charlotte’s Web. The strain was created for children with chronic seizures, and it doesn’t get the user high.

This is no small concession for Gaetz. He’s fighting a citizen-led effort that would let doctors prescribe marijuana to patients with debilitating illnesses. But Charlotte’s Web is different.

Gaetz says his wife was greatly moved by the parents who testified. “She had tears rolling down her cheeks as she was pointing out portions of testimony to me,” Gaetz said. “It’s certainly compelling.”

His son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, is pushing hard to legalize the marijuana strain.

“I’m being pummeled by my son,” Gaetz said.

Legislation has been proposed in the House, but there is no Senate bill yet.

“I’m studying the issue," Gaetz said. “I’m calling physicians and people in healthcare who I have a lot of regard for and trying to gather information. I’m knocking on doors in my district. ”