On the heels of Rep. Jeff Brandes introduction of the Florida Medical Marijuana Act in late January comes a new bill, this time introduced by fellow Republican Rep. Greg Steube. But where Brandes' bill focuses in on trying to close off loop holes to keep medical marijuana only in the hands of patients who need it, Steube's bill is for a non-smokable form of medical marijuana that targets eight specific diseases and those who are terminally ill.
The crux of the bill remains a lot like the Brandes bill. Steube wants to make sure medical marijuana remains for only narrow and specific type of person. But the bill, HB 683, is vastly more comprehensive than Brandes'.
HB 683 states eight diseases that would be covered: Cancer, HIV, AIDS, ALS, Epilepsy, Multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, and terminal illness.
While off the bat that looks like a good thing, Florida for Care's Executive Director Ben Pollara is looking at it with much scrutiny.
"We are encouraged to see this companion bill filed by Rep. Steube," Pollara says. "However, the exclusion of qualifying symptoms - in addition to qualifying diseases - and the prohibition on a patient's ability to consume their medicine as recommended by a doctor is alarming."
Florida for Care argues that Steube's bill bans smoking and severely restricts what conditions would be eligible under the law.
"It is absolutely crucial that doctors have the freedom to make these recommendations based on specific symptoms, in addition to named diseases," Pollara says. "And our position remains that legislation should not stand between a doctor and patient in mandating the manner in which that patient consumes their medicine."
It's a far cry from the vote of confidence Brandes' bill received from United For Care last month. That bill would also authorize doctors to use medicinal marijuana to treat patients afflicted with specific illnesses. However, that bill would not only allow smoking, but also uses language that would allow physicians to prescribe it for "any physical medical condition or treatment for a medical condition which chronically produces the following qualifying symptoms: Cachexia or wasting syndrome; persistent seizures; severe and persistent nausea; severe and persistent muscle spasms; severe and persistent pain."
Pollara accepted Brandes' bill with more enthusiasm, releasing a statement at the time saying, "Sen. Brandes has taken a courageous step in service of making the voice of Floridians heard on this issue."
The Steube bill is considered a companion bill to Brandes. But one that Pollara says needs to be revisited.
Though he is quick not to dismiss it outright.
"At this point HB 683 just does not meet the needs of all Florida patients, but nonetheless is a strong starting point from the House," he says. "We look forward to working with Rep. Steube, Sen. Brandes and the legislature to pass a medical marijuana law that works for all the sick and suffering patients of Florida."
In recent weeks, even medical marijuana's most stringent critics have been coming around at legislature that would legalize medical weed in Florida.
Shortly following the announcement of Brandes' bill, Florida Sheriffs Association President Sheriff Grady Judd -- an ardent opposer of medical marijuana -- said he would support medical marijuana legislation as long as it contained no loop holes.
It's that, plus the fact that two bills have emerged with a focus on narrowing the language that has medical marijuana proponents like Florida for Care enthusiastic.
"Our job is to ensure that the steps taken to provide medicinal marijuana does not handicap our law enforcement and continues to protect the health, safety and welfare of all Floridians," Steube said in a statement announcing HB 683. "The focus should continue to be on the fact that this is medicinal marijuana and should be treated as such, and not a gateway to recreational use."
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