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Florida House bill seeks to expand Right to Try Act to include non-smokeable marijuana


TALLAHASSEE, Florida — A pair of Republican lawmakers who helped author a bill to make a certain strain of marijuana permissible for treatment is seeking to go one step further.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach announced on Wednesday that he has filed a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use experimental drugs to include non-smokeable marijuana of all strengths and doses. Sen. Rob Bradley of Fleming Island is expected to sponsor a similar bill in the Senate.

"In speaking to families, they said they appreciated what we did (in 2014) but it did not go far enough," Bradley said. "We started down this road because of personal stories from families so we are putting the band back together "

The bill seeks to expand the Right to Try Act, which was passed earlier this year. It allows terminal patients to try any medicine that has passed phase one of a FDA clinical trial. Lawmakers rejected proposals to include marijuana in the law.

Gaetz and Bradley were part of a group that got the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act passed two years ago. It has been nicknamed the Charlotte's Web bill because it legalized that strain, which is high in cannabidiol (CBD) but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the compound that produces a euphoric high. It has been used to treat patients suffering from epilepsy, cancer and Lou Gehrig's Disease. The law has not been fully implemented, however, as the Department of Health has yet to license any nurseries to grow it. For most of the past 16 months, there have been legal challenges by growers saying the system for determining who would be licensed was unfair.

Gaetz said he has been assured that licenses should start being issued in weeks but still expressed his frustration over the delay. That is a big reason why they are trying to amend the Right to Try Act so that it will not disrupt the other work.

The bill also comes at a time when a ballot measure for a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is being reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court. If approved and it gets enough signatures, the measure would be on the ballot for next November's general election. A similar measure was on the ballot in 2014 and received 58 percent approval, which was 2 percent shy of what was needed for passage.

Ben Pollara, the campaign manager at United for Care, lauded the work of Bradley and Gaetz, along with others who have supported expanding the use of medical marijuana, but said that what they are doing does not go far enough.

"It's great that our legislature is finally acknowledging that THC has medicinal value, but again, this is not enough for the very sick and suffering," Pollara said. "A sledgehammer over the head may in fact be the only way for Floridians to have their voices heard by the largely deaf ears of politicians."

Gaetz is hoping there can be a legislative remedy because it would provide more leeway to make adjustments to statutes than would a constitutional amendment.

Bradley was a little more blunt, saying that "a constitutional amendment would be like a taking a sledgehammer to the issue instead of a surgeon's scalpel."

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