Medical marijuana bill filed in Florida

8:24 PM, Feb 10, 2014   |    comments
Ryan Roman speaks about the benefits marijuana has had on the pain associated with spinal cancer. He is flanked by Rep. Joe Saunders D-Orlando, left, and Sen. Jeff Clemens. / Karl Etters/Democrat
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TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Tallahassee Democrat) -- Ryan Roman was diagnosed with spinal cancer in 2005.

Now, with the help of Florida lawmakers, he and others living with debilitating diseases hope to be able to use medical marijuana to step away from standard treatments and curb the pain associated with their ailments.

With a constitutional amendment set to go before Florida voters in November, Rep. Joe Saunders D-Orlando and Sen. Jeff Clemens unveiled the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act on Monday, rolling out a narrower framework for a medical marijuana program in the state.

"A blanket ban on access to medical marijuana is hurting Floridians," Saunders said, "forcing them into treatments that are less effective and have much harsher side effects and labeling patients desperate for health care alternatives as criminals. It's about compassion; it's about patients."

Roman, Jordan, for whom the act is named for, and others in support of the bill joined lawmakers at the Capitol to show their support for something they say has been essential to enjoying life outside of chronic pain.

Roman said a full decriminalization was not the option, but getting people medical help, when traditional pharmaceuticals come with harsh side effects, is about compassion.

"We're not here to harm anybody," Roman said. "We are simply here to gain a little bit of comfort and show that the conventional medicine and other options we have available aren't necessarily going to be the best options. Cannabis isn't all bad. There is a medical necessity for this."

The bill is more specific than the amendment in that it lays out 24 specific ailments and four qualifying medical treatments. As written, the amendment leaves that discretion up to physicians.

It also lays out cultivation, distribution and security protocols for marijuana farms and dispensaries as well as guidelines for state agencies to monitor and administer those regulations.

Related: Cannabis College opens in Tampa

Clemens said the bill's framework and passage could make the amendment moot, as its enactment date is in October before the election. But he didn't see it as a driver to the polls in November.

"I'm not trying to politicize this issue at all," said Clemens, who has sponsored a similar bill as a state representative and a senator since 2008. "I see this as a chance to get out ahead of the constitutional amendment."

Republican leaders around the state have voiced concerns about the broadness of the constitutional amendment, but have shown support for medical cannabis in the Legislature.

House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chair Rep. Matt Gaetz R-Fort Walton Beach and Rep. Katie Edwards D-Plantation have spearheaded a bill allowing the use of derivatives from cannabis strains low in the euphoric chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) yet high in cannabidiol (CBD) which aids in curbing epileptic seizures.

That legislation has support from Republicans like Rep. Charles Van Zant R-Keystone Heights.

MORE: Medical marijuana gets traction in the Deep South

With 20 other states that allow medical marijuana use, Clemens said it was time Florida got up to speed.

"This is not unusual, nor is it in any way out on the fringe," Clemens said. "This is becoming more about mainstream America."

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