Veto looms over effort to allow non-euphoric strain for children with severe epilepsy
April 26, 2014|Michael Mayo, Sun Sentinel Columnist
Before Florida voters decide the fate of medical marijuana in November, the Legislature might soon legalize a certain strain of medical pot – for kids.
That would be pretty ironic, given all the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaigns aimed at school children through the years.
But it also would be pretty humane, considering the non-euphoric strain known as “Charlotte’s Web” has reportedly been effective in curtailing severe seizures in some children with intractable epilepsy. This type of marijuana is not smoked, but administered as an oil extract added to food. It is very low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of pot that gets users high.
After years of Just Saying No, legislators who’ve held committee hearings on two bills (HB843/SB1030) that would allow Charlotte’s Web have been Just Voting Yes.
“If you tally up all the committee votes, it’s been something like 90 percent in favor,” said Seth Hyman, of Weston, a medical marijuana supporter whose 8-year-old daughter Rebecca suffers from severe seizures.
Actually, 93 percent: 78 yeas and 6 nays in six Senate and House committee stops this year.
But even if the bills are approved by both chambers before the scheduled end of session next week, Gov. Scott might sink the effort with a veto.
Scott signalled as much last week. John Armstrong, the Florida surgeon general and a Scott appointee who heads the Department of Health, voiced his opposition to the bill.
“We must be wary of unintended consequences and remember that first we must do no harm,” Armstrong told the House Judiciary committee, which voted 15-3 to support the bill anyway.
“Do no harm” is the supposed golden rule of medicine.
“Do no harm?! My child is being harmed every day,” Hyman told me on Friday. “My daughter is regressing every day…This bill could save her life.”
There are an estimated 125,000 cases of intractable epilepsy in Florida, marked by dozens of daily seizures that can progressively get worse for children, leading to brain damage and death.
“This is another example of our wonderful Tallahassee politicians coming between patients and doctors, and getting in the way of desperate parents and kids who need help,” Hyman said. “What boggles my mind is how so many of these bright people can say yes, and then just one or two people – the surgeon general and the governor – can stop it by saying no.”
Twenty states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana use. Armstrong testified he was leery of allowing untested drugs into the market. He said Florida should wait for more research by the federal government.
But that’s pretty disingenuous, considering the federal government has long classified marijuana as a “Schedule One” drug with no medically accepted use and has thwarted nearly all research studies in recent decades.
Last month, the feds granted permission to Arizona researchers for a study into pot’s potential benefits for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. An experimental federal program once open to cancer, glaucoma and AIDS patients stopped accepting new enrollees decades ago.
Only four patients remain in that program, including Irvin Rosenfeld, 60, a Fort Lauderdale stockbroker with a rare bone tumor condition who has smoked over 130,000 joints provided by the feds over the last 34 years. Rosenfeld says medical marijuana works and has allowed him to lead a productive life.
The only consolation if this latest legislative effort fails: Florida voters will get final say on broader use of medical marijuana come November. Amendment 2 needs 60 percent approval to pass. If voters put medical pot into the state constitution, the Legislature would have nine months to enact laws regulating it.
“Amendment 2 needs to pass,” Hyman said. “Not just for my daughter, but for millions of other Floridians of all ages who are suffering.”
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