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Charlotte's Web Bill Could Limit The Future Of Medical Marijuana

Dale Calder on Flickr

Somewhere on the quality scale between Internet scuttlebutt and peer-reviewed research, you'll find the case for medical marijuana. It relies mostly on the recent discovery ofthe endo-cannabinoid system, an elaborate network of brain receptors that are activated by the components of marijuana to send comfort and cure to the human body.

In the minds of many advocates, the linkage is precise enough to suggest a mystically predestined relationship between people -- and pot. But the idea cuts two ways.

"In the 1990s, Florida director of drug control James McDonough said to me, 'Jodi, medical marijuana is akin to witchcraft, folklore and home remedies,'" laughed Jodi James, executive director of the Florida Cannabis Action Network.

FCAN campaigns for full legalization of marijuana. But James' focus now is a medical marijuana bill (SB 1030) now pending in the Florida Legislature. It would allow the use of a low-THC variety of marijuana called Charlotte's Web to reduce seizures in children with severe epilepsy. It's in the Legislature just months before the Nov. 4 statewide referendum on Amendment Two.

It would legalize the whole range of medical marijuana in Florida if Charlotte's Web doesn't hobble the popular amendment before it passes, as James fears.

Credit The Florida Channel
FIRST, DO NO HARM: State Surgeon General John Armstrong testified against Charlotte's Web before a House committee.

"I believe they're creating an infrastructure that's not necessary for Charlotte's Web but makes a great footprint for the coming initiative," she says.

The Charlotte's Web bill would allow state oversight at the case level through a patient registry. It would permit production and distribution only of non-smokable marijuana derivatives by four highly regulated regional dispensaries -- and it would limit the product to an extremely low level of THC (.8 percent).

THC is the chemical that gets you high but researchers say it's important at different levels in different therapies. One of the three prime sponsors of the bill is Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach). He says the coming medical marijuana amendment needs limits.

"It’s written so loosey-goosey and it opens the door for abuse," Bean said. Asked if he plans for the low-THC rule to carry over to post-Amendment Two medical marijuana, Bean said, "Yes. That's our mission in the bill."

Bean and senate colleagues Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) and Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) are no fans of marijuana, medical or otherwise. But they were touched by the testimony of the parents of the epileptic children and they were persuaded by the evidence that marijuana therapy can help. But where Bean sees a need to restrain Amendment Two with Charlotte's Web rules, Bradley does not.

"It may pass, it may not pass," he said. "But the purpose of this effort is not to set up an apparatus in case it passes."

This un-united front -- unusual among bill co-introducers -- suggests lawmakers may be whiplashed by the sudden shift of public opinion after generations of marijuana disapproval. But they're also having to rethink an even older idea of what medicine is.

In his committee testimony against Charlotte's Web -- testimony that suggested the possibility of a veto by Gov. Scott -- state Surgeon General John Armstrong argued strongly for relying on the FDA drug-approval system that yielded Warfarin and Viagra. He said sending an untested drug to market ripe invites unintended consequences and violates the prime medical directive: "First, do no harm."

We consider 'medicine' to be something that's made in a laboratory by men and women in white coats and dispensed in measured doses. What the Florida Legislature is going to give us is 'medicine.'

"We support access to investigational new drugs with regulated composition and a known risk profile," Armstrong told the House Judiciary Committee just before it overwhelmingly approved the Charlotte's Web bill.

But Armstrong's view of what medicine is and must be is not shared in the community of medical marijuana, which sees the plant as a gift of nature and an evolutionary accessory to the human condition.

"We consider 'medicine' to be something that's made in a laboratory by men and women in white coats and dispensed in measured doses," said James, "and what the Florida Legislature is going to give us is 'medicine.'" 

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