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Nancy Smith

House Medical Marijuana Bill Still on Track

April 9, 2014 - 6:00pm

The light-strain medical marijuana bill, said to be under fire behind the scenes, is for the moment anyway, alive and well and moving ahead as planned in the House.

House Speaker Will Weatherford told Sunshine State News on Wednesday, "The supporters of Charlottes Web make a compelling case for their legislation. I expect the bill to receive a fair hearing in the House at the appropriate time."

Weatherford's statement follows rumors late last week that St. Petersburg millionaire and Republican campaign donor Mel Sembler, an anti-drug crusader most of his life, was pressuring House leadership to kill the bill. Sembler and his wife Betty directed the leading juvenile drug rehab business in America, STRAIGHT Inc., which prosecutors closed in 1993 after reports of sexual abuse, beatings, prisoner-of-war-style torture and cover-ups.

Next stop for HB 843 is the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

"I promised Chair (Matt) Gaetz I would give him a fair hearing on this," said Baxley, "and none of that has changed."

Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, sponsor of the bill, has saidhe is undeterred by any talk and focused on moving his bill forward.

Baxley said he knows there's still a lot of work to do on the bill to get questions answered and work out the kinks. "It's not ready for this week. I don't expect to see it in Judiciary until maybe week 8 of the session. The Senate and the House have very different approaches, and I'm sure it's like threading a needle to put it all together and make it work."

Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, cosponsor of HB 843, like Gaetz remains committed and optimistic.

"(Criminal Justice Subcommittee) Chairman Gaetz and I have been proactive and inclusive with this bill," she said Wednesday. "We not only asked all of the House cosponsors for input and feedback on the proposed amendment, we have worked with our Senate sponsors to insure that the amendments reflect the constructive criticism from members and the public received in the committee meeting.

"I believe the bill we bring to the Judiciary Committee will embody our earnest efforts to win over even the most skeptical of skeptics,"Edwards said.

Baxley said after the Judiciary Committee -- providing it survives -- HB 843 will go to Rules and then to the House floor.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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