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House joins medical marijuana debate this session

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As the House met in full session Wednesday morning, patient advocates were abuzz about a new amendment allowing terminally ill patients to use medicinal marijuana.

State Rep. Matt Gaetz tried to attach it to the bill that would create the Right to Try Act, which would allow patients to use experimental drugs and devices that have completed only the first phase of clinical trials.

It marked the first time this session the House had discussed medicinal marijuana on the floor of the House.

“I think it captured the House’s spirit on their compassion and their understanding of the potential value” of medicinal cannabis, Jeff Sharkey said of the debate over Gaetz’s amendment. Sharkey is a spokesman for the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida.

“It represented their willingness to explore ways to help people who are very ill,” he said.

Gaetz put his amendment on state Rep. Ray Pilon’s bill that would make Florida the 12th state to allow dying patients to use medicines and devices that have yet to be approved by the FDA.

“Why wouldn’t we also say a substance that has been legalized in at least 20 states in this country would also be available for this very small group of people?” Gaetz said.

State Rep. Clay Pigman responded that’s because it “unnecessarily introduces conflict” to Pilon’s bill. And state Rep John Wood said it was a problem because the amendment had never been heard in committee. And state Rep. Juan Gonzales said the amendment would allow other states to set Florida policy.

Those reasons didn’t sit well with state Rep. Katie Edwards.

She reminded lawmakers that the Compassionate Medicinal Marijuana Act of 2014 has yet to be implemented. She said lawmakers had “promised” the families of epilepsy and cancer patients that medicinal cannabis oil would be accessible and available in Florida.

“We have broken our promise and have delivered the most vulnerable patients nothing … Not one committee meeting, not one bill moving forward, nothing,” Edwards said in floor debate. “Why haven’t we heard a glitch bill? Why haven’t we addressed the issue? Please, in debate, tell me what to tell these families.”

Pilon deemed Gaetz’s proposal an unfriendly amendment and asked that it be withdrawn.

Gaetz, reading the writing on the wall, agreed to that but made a couple of points before doing so.

“To my colleagues in the majority party, we are for less government and for someone who has less than a year to live and they want to try something and the only thing they need for government to get out of the way … I want to give them less government and get out their way,” Gaetz told the full House.

Gaetz conceded that opinions differ on how far to lift the prohibitions on marijuana.

“Can we at least call a truce for people who have less than a year to live?” he said. He then withdrew his amendment, but suggested to the House that the debate had not ended.

“It just so happens that the Senate sponsor of this bill is state Sen. Jeff Brandes,” Gaetz said. Brandes favors a more expansive marijuana law that leaves most decisions to the patient and doctor.

“So I have a sneaky suspicion we may see this bill come back and it may contain provisions that are similar to what I have offered,” Gaetz said.

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