A strain of low-THC marijuana known as Charlotte's Web would be legal for medical use to treat epileptic children under a bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on Monday.
The Senate voted 36-3 to pass the legislation that supporters said could help sick children. It now goes to the House for consideration.
"This is the last resort for some folks, for their children," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. "We have a responsibility to do what we can to alleviate the suffering and pain of children."
Republican Sen. Greg Evers of Pensacola said he was torn over the bill, saying he lives in the most conservative part of the state and he didn't think most of his constituents would support it. But he said he was won over by the story of RayAnn Moseley, an 11-year-old girl who has up to 300 seizures a week. Her parents, Peyton and Holley Moseley, have been fighting to get the bill passed.
"RayAnn made a huge impact on me when they came to my office," said Evers. "If it was my child, I wouldn't have any problem getting them help, whether it was legal or whether it wasn't."
The bill (SB 1030) sets conditions on the possession and use of the marijuana. It will have to contain less than 0.8 percent THC, the chemical that makes users high. On average, marijuana has about 15 percent THC, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It also couldn't be smoked. In Colorado, the strain is converted into an oil before children are treated with it. Use of it will also require a doctor's approval.
The strain has normal levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, which is used to treat seizures. It marks the first time a Florida legislative chamber has passed a bill approving any form of medical marijuana.
"Charlotte's Web has the ability to completely change our lives and the lives of 125,000 other Floridians," said Holley Mosely, who watched the Senate from the public gallery. "The Senate vote today gives us hope that our daughter may be given the opportunity to have a childhood and live a normal life."
Opponents said they didn't want to approve the use of a substance that hadn't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"I truly believe that we need to stick to good science. We need to take an approach that is proven," said Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne.
The bill was sponsored by three Republicans — Sens. Aaron Bean of Jacksonville, Rob Bradley of Orange Park and Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Shalimar and Democratic Rep. Katie Edwards of Plantation are sponsoring a similar bill (HB 843).
"Rep. Gaetz and Rep. Edwards have made a very compelling case for medical marijuana," said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "But it won't be the House bill being sent to the Senate. It'll be the Senate bill being sent to the House."
Florida voters will consider a constitutional amendment in November that would in general approve medical marijuana.