TALLAHASSEE – Florida doctors prescribing a form of medicinal marijuana could face jail time and fines if they fraudulently hand out the low-THC version known as “Charlotte’s Web.”
The Legislature is considering whether to legalize and regulate a non-euphoric version of marijuana developed in Colorado under the auspices of helping families with children suffering from degenerative epilepsy.
The House version, HB 843, would create a legal system for producing, dispensing and studying the drug in Florida for patients who are permanent residents of the state with “serious medical conditions” including cancer.
A divided House Judiciary Committee gave cleared its final committee in the chamber Monday, but not before Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, offered an amendment making it a misdemeanor for doctors to prescribe the drug if they had “reasonable belief” the person seeking it was not sick.
The change would allow doctors who prescribe the drug without a "reasonable belief" the patient had a serious medical condition or the symptoms of one to be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a one-year jail sentence, a one-year probation, or a $1,000 fine.The bill previously included a penalty for doctors licenses if they fraudulently prescribed the drug. Now they could potentially face jail time and fines.
Democrats and one Republican on the panel called the stiffer punishment “ambiguous” because it would require police to try to determine the “state of mind” of the doctor responsible for placing patients on a “compassionate care registry” and prescribing the drug.
But Eisnaugle said that wasn’t rare in the legal world.
“We prosecute for state of mind all the time, all the time. That happens every single day in every single circuit in Florida and probably the country,” said Eisnaugle, who just won a second House stint in a special election earlier this month.
“It has a fair and reasonable standard, the reasonable belief of the doctor.”
Judiciary Chairman Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who voted no, called the bill too “edgy” and might make Florida a “stoner state.”
“This is the push-off point. Are we starting an avalanche?” Baxley said.
The version of cannabis nicknamed “Charlotte’s Web” after a Colorado child is high in the non-euphoric cannabidiol (CBD), and low in the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which gets people high when smoking the plant. The House bill requires the plants used in Florida to have .8 percent THC or less.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Fort Walton Beach Republican pushing the Charlotte’s Web bill, called it a “cautious walk forward” necessary because the federal government has been too slow to investigate the health-effects of marijuana for people in pain who have exhausted other forms of treatment.
“In Colorado, there are probably a lot of things that haven’t been done right. But there is one,” Gaetz said, referring to positive effects Charlotte’s Web has had on children there as so overwhelming it is “hard to debate.”
“I don’t want Florida to be Colorado. I don’t want Florida to be California,” he added. “Most states that have gone down this road have gotten it wrong. … These families trying to help their children should not be criminals.”
His bill would create a regulatory scheme under the Department of Health for doctors to prescribe the medicine, and set aside $1 million for Florida State University’s James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program to study the effects of the drug on children with intractable epilepsy.
A cadre of conservative Senate Republicans has joined in, filing SB 1030, the chamber's companion bill.
The effort has drawn parents like Holley and Peyton Moseley, a Gulf Breeze couple who adopted a child RayAnn with severe epilepsy. They have become well-known advocates for legalizing Charlotte’s Web after visiting Colorado where the new medicine was developed. They’ve hired two lobbyists and a public-relations firm, and created an online community to make the case for giving Florida’s 125,000 epileptic children the legal option of using the drug to treat their excruciating condition.
Gov. Rick Scott has not said whether he would sign the Charlotte’s Web bill, but voters will have the final say in November when they cast ballots on a constitutional amendment legalizing all forms of medical marijuana.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun