SARASOTA, Fla. – It is now legal for anyone aged 21 and up to buy marijuana in the state of Washington. The first legal sales of recreational marijuana began there at 8 o'clock this morning, and Washington now joins Colorado as the only states in the union to allow recreational marijuana sales.
While recreational pot is still somewhat unthinkable here in the Sunshine state, plans are in the works to legalize marijuana for medical use here in Florida.
In an important first step, Governor Scott recently signed into law legislation that will allow doctors to treat patients with a specific cannabis extract known as Charlotte’s Web, and the details of how the new law will be implemented are now in the works.
It was standing room only at the Department of Health's public hearing on the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014. The agency is charged with creating the regulations that will govern the use and manufacture of the specific strain of marijuana that will be legal for doctors to prescribe for specific illnesses.
"I think Governor Scott and the Department of Health have done an excellent job of putting together a series of ideas to begin the conversation,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Shalimar, Fla. “Of course, with any rule there are nips and tucks that occur along the way, this rule will be no exception to that. But I'm very encouraged at where we are at this juncture."
The CMC Act is also known as the Charlotte’s Web law, in reference to the specific strain of marijuana used to make an oil extract high in cannabidiol but low in the psychoactive component that causes users to get "high." The law allows doctors to use the extract to treat patients with seizures, muscle spasms and cancer.
Renee Petro says her 12-year-old son Brandon is among the group that will benefit from the new law. Brandon developed epilepsy at age 8 and has suffered with the symptoms for the past four years. Brandon is on three pharmaceutical medications that don’t work -- he seizes every day, and the side affects are horrible – and his mother says that at this point anything would be better than what he currently has to deal with.
"We are here today very, very happy that the state of Florida and Governor Rick Scott has acknowledged that cannabis is a medicine and that the Charlotte’s bill has been signed," she says.
According to the draft rules discussed during the hearing, the state will be divided into five regions, with each allowed to have one dispensary to cultivate and distribute marijuana for medical purposes. If there are multiple applicants in a region, a lottery process will determine the order applications will be considered.
It’s a move Petro hopes will help expedite the process.
“We need medicine available right now and we need it to be safe effect and consistent,” she says.
And while many supporters say the law is a step in the right direction, some say it doesn't go far enough.
"The oil that is specified under Senate Bill 1030 has restrictions, but I think all Floridians need to have all options available, and I therefore think folks need to vote yes on Amendment 2 in November,” says medical marijuana supporter Seth Hyman of the proposed amendment that would legalize marijuana for medical use as directed by a doctor. “That way every patient with a debilitating disease will have all options to medical marijuana."