The use of low-THC marijuana to treat epilepsy and cancer patients came one step closer to becoming law in the state of Florida.
The Florida House overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday legalizing low-THC medical marijuana.
"The compassion that was felt in the words of everyone who spoke, the sincerity of this desire to help people who need help lifted this chamber up today," said Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford after the vote.
The bill puts some restrictions on the use of the marijuana strain known as Charlotte's Web. It can have no more than 0.8 percent THC, the chemical that makes users feel high. On average, marijuana has about 15 percent THC, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The strain has normal levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, which is used to treat seizures.
Also, people would not be able to just walk into a doctor's office and get a prescription. Only doctors who have been providing ongoing treatment of a patient can prescribe it, and only as a last resort if other treatments aren't effective.
The state would also maintain a registry of eligible patients. The marijuana can't be smoked and would be converted into an oil. Only four dispensaries would be allowed in the state and they would be highly regulated.
Support for the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz was questionable when it was first filed, but became overwhelming after parents of children suffering from seizures pleaded for help during committee hearings.
"In the state of Colorado we do know that 85 percent of children who are using non-euphoric marijuana to control seizures and spasms have seen a 50 to 100 percent reduction in those seizures," said Gaetz, R-Shalimar.
Still, a handful of House members raised concerns, including a lack of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the drug's use and the possibility that the bill will open the door for wider spread use of marijuana.
"This could be the rifle shot that starts a massive avalanche," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. "When I look at that I simply can't pull the trigger."
Rep. Darryl Rouson, who overcame substance abuse problems years ago and is now strongly anti-marijuana, said he couldn't imagine supporting a marijuana bill, but he was swayed to do so.
"I'm not worried about Charlotte's Web, I'm worried about Pandora's box," said Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. "I thought about it, why would I vote for something like this? But ... the answer was, it's about quality of life for people who are suffering and there's evidence to show it works."
The Senate passed the bill (SB 1030) earlier this week, but the House made changes that will require another Senate vote before it goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who said he will sign the bill.
"I'm a parent and a grandparent. I want to make sure my children, my grandchildren have access to the health care they want," Scott said.
If Florida approves the use of medical marijuana, it would join 21 other states that have enacted similar laws. The states include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland (Beginning in June), Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Washington, DC, also legalized marijuana in 2010.