A fledgling move is afoot to legalize a lighter strain of medical marijuana in the Sunshine State. Two Florida representatives, Katie Edwards and Matt Gaetz, are taking steps to help families statewide gain access to a strain of marijuana that’s shown promise in treating children who suffer from seizures.
The strain, known as Charlotte’s Web and available only in Colorado, is high in cannabidiol (CBD), which experts say can reduce and even eliminate seizures. Charlotte’s Web has a low THC content, the component that gives users a high. Although 21 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana, the federal government still lists cannabis as a highly addictive and dangerous “Schedule 1” drug, along with heroin and LSD.
A looming Florida Supreme Court decision might let voters decide in November whether the state should legalize cannabis to treat disease. Legalizing medical marijuana in Florida is a long shot, critics of the proposed ballot measure say. “As of right now, we don’t even know if it’s going to go before the voters,” said Edwards, D-Plantation. The state Supreme Court has until April 1 to make a decision on whether the amendment will appear on the ballot. And even then, the group pushing the measure, People United for Medical Marijuana, has to gather nearly 700,000 petition signatures by Feb. 1.
“Even if the court upholds the [ballot] language and they get the required number of signatures and it passes, the Legislature still has to get involved to implement the will of the voters,” Edwards said. “The bottom line is, the Legislature has to get involved at some point.” Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, says he will lead a workshop discussion Jan. 9 on whether Florida should decriminalize certain strains of marijuana that have no euphoric effect but have been shown to halt seizures.
“We need to get feedback from law enforcement, prosecutors, parents and doctors,” said Gaetz, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. “I’m willing to entertain the discussion and we’ll see where it goes from there.” Edwards says lawmakers at the very least should learn more about how Charlotte’s Web could help children in Florida, as it has in Colorado.
“It’s a glimmer of hope for these families,” Edwards said. “They look at something like Charlotte’s Web and wonder why we can’t do that in Florida. The bottom line is that we need to allow researchers to have access to cannabis so that they may study the strains of CBD and develop safe and effective medications in a pill, topical or oil form.”
Charlotte’s Web is not smoked but turned into a liquid extract and swallowed or administered through a feeding tube. Edwards is galvanized by cases like that of Rebecca Hyman, who was born with a severe genetic disorder and had her first seizure at age 3. The Weston girl, now 8, was at one point enduring up to 200 seizures a day, some lasting seven minutes or more, says her father, Seth Hyman. She requires round-the-clock care. “Many of her seizures are silent,” Hyman said. “Someone has to have their eyes on her 24 hours a day.”
Traditional medicines either didn’t work or made things worse, her parents say. While the Hymans wait for lawmakers to legalize Charlotte’s Web in Florida, other families are leaving the state. One South Florida couple moved to Colorado six weeks ago so their son and daughter, ages 14 and 13, could start taking Charlotte’s Web in an attempt to stop their seizures.
It seems to be working, says Cristi Bundukamara, mom to Reggie and Miah, who both suffer from DRPLA, a progressive and often terminal brain disorder. Since starting on a low dosage of Charlotte’s Web in November, Reggie’s seizures have gone from 40 to 20 a month, Bundukamara says. His sister’s have stopped altogether. More research is needed on cannabidiol and its role in treating patients with epilepsy, said Dr. Ian Miller, a pediatric neurologist at Miami Children’s Hospital who treats Rebecca Hyman.
Doctors at Miami Children’s Hospital are working with a manufacturer of pharmaceutically pure CBD and hope to start clinical trials in early 2014, Miller said. “What we do know is that some parents have tried it and have reported very dramatic reductions in seizure frequency and severity,” Miller said. “That falls short of scientific proof, but it’s enough to help us prioritize CBD as an important possible treatment, and to give it priority so that we can evaluate its effectiveness.”
Medical marijuana in Florida
Jan. 9: The Florida House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will hold a workshop to discuss the merits of decriminalizing certain strains of marijuana that have no euphoric effect but have shown success in reducing the frequency of epileptic seizures.
Feb. 1: Deadline for the group pushing the medical marijuana amendment to gather nearly 700,000 signatures required for it to appear on the ballot in November 2014.
April 1: Deadline for the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether a state constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana will appear on the November ballot.
Medical marijuana in the U.S.
The following states, along with Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana:
Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington
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