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Nancy Smith

Matt Gaetz Files HB 843, Light-Strain Medical Marijuana Bill

February 5, 2014 - 6:00pm

An upbeat Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, told Sunshine State News Thursday he had just filed a stand-alone bill that will allow the cultivation, distribution and sale of a non-euphoric marijuana in Florida and said he is confident it will pass all the way to the governor's desk.

"It's House Bill 843, with a simple one-sentence description, and I'll be able to move the legislation through the House myself," said Gaetz, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

The bill's description is this: "Cannabis: Revises definition of term "cannabis" for purposes of Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act and applicable to certain criminal offenses proscribing sale, manufacture, delivery, possession, or purchase of cannabis, to which penalties apply."

Said prime co-sponsor of the bill Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, "I'm incredibly happy that the House will finally have an opportunity to have a fair and genuine debate on this issue. The patients and their families who have contacted me have stressed that they cannot wait for further inaction or delay, so I believe it's imperative that we continue to engage as many from the medical and patient communities as possible to craft the best public health policy for Florida.

"For those who are not yet convinced about the need for cannabis reform in the state," Edwards said, "I welcome them to the conversation and dialogue as we continue to learn more about how this plant can be used in its many nonpsychotrophic, nonsmokable derivatives to help patients."

In the past two weeks, dozens of families dealing with Dravet syndrome -- a severe form of epilepsy in children -- have come forward to support what originally was intended as an amendment to HB 99, criminal sentencing legislation. A few of them gave emotional and compelling testimony during a workshop in January, and their plight has heightened legislators' awareness. And since the workshop the faith-based community, traditionally opposed to legalizing "street" drugs in any form, have begun to open their hearts and minds to the light strain of medical cannabis that relieves suffering but doesn't produce a "high."

"I hope and believe we can turn Representative (Dennis) Baxley's vote," Gaetz said. "He understands the value of having this debate and so it's so much better we're now looking at a separate bill."

Gaetz said he looks forward to "flushing out the issues" by bringing on experts in medicine, cultivation, regulation, distribution, whatever it takes "to do HB 843 carefully and correctly."

On Tuesday Gaetz and Edwards scrambled to prepare an amendment to Edwards' HB 99. But just before Wednesday's Criminal Justice Subcommittee meeting, they scratched the plan.

"Some key legislators have worried an amendment to HB 99 would look too much like we were pushing through the same thing as the medical marijuana amendment on the ballot in November," Gaetz said.

"It's been a joy working on this with Representative. Edwards," said Gaetz. "This is a bipartisan effort all the way. I've always believed we do our best work when we take arguments and suggestions from both sides of the aisle."

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

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