Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jan 2014
Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Copyright: 2014 St. Petersburg Times
Author: Marc Caputo, Miami Herald
Page: B1


St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes, A Republican, Sponsors The Plan To
Legalize The Drug

Seriously sick Floridians and those who can't find adequate
prescription drugs would be allowed access to 'medical-grade'
marijuana under a major cannabis bill filed Monday by a top Florida
Republican state senator.

St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes' 28-page legislation, the most
farreaching of its kind by a top legislative leader, seeks to regulate
the cultivation, distribution and use of medical marijuana in Florida.

The bill mirrors parts of a proposed constitutional amendment that
garnered 57.6 percent of the vote. That amendment, which failed
because it didn't meet a 60 percent threshold for approval, has been
redrafted and could appear on the 2016 ballot.

Brandes said he opposed the amendment, largely because he thought the
Legislature should be in charge of making such a major change to
health care and criminal law in Florida.

'We should allow for physiA-cians and patients to make decisions about
their medical care,' Brandes said. 'It's about the physician-patient
relationship - for me, that's the compelling reason. You hear stories
of people struggling.' The proponents of the medical marijuana
constitutional amendment cheered Brandes' proposal. 'Floridians have
spoken on the issue of medical marijuana and Sen. Brandes has heard
them,' said Ben Pollara, the executive director of the United for Care
group that has backed the proposed amendments.

'This is a tremendous step toward passing a medical marijuana law
without having to bring the issue back to voters in 2016,' Pollara

Before the United for Care proposals, medical marijuana was stifled by
the GOP-led Legislature.

But after the amendment was headed for the 2014 ballot, the
Legislature passed a scaled-back law that legalized only a low-THC
strain of marijuana, nicknamed 'Charlotte's Web,' that's often used to
treat people with epilepsy. That law hasn't gone into effect because
it has been bound up in court challenges and bureaucratic red tape.

Under Brandes' legislation, qualified patients could receive as much
as a 30-day supply of marijuana from a licensed, regulated facility as
long as they were properly examined by a physician, who would have to
write a prescription-like recommendation for the drug.

Brandes, the chairman of the Senate's transportation committee and a
member of its criminal justice committee, said he believes more people
should have the right to access marijuana as long as it's properly
regulated and recommended by a physician. He said he expects to have a
House sponsor for the legislation in the coming weeks. The 60-day
legislative session begins in March.

'I've talked to the governor directly. I've talked to the Senate
president,' Brandes said. 'I've talked to the leadership in the House
- - not the speaker, but the leadership - and I think they're
open-minded. I'm not going to say it's a slam dunk.' Conservatives
still have grave reservations about changing marijuana laws in Florida.

In Brandes' hometown, the Drug Free America Foundation is a bulwark of
opposition to medical marijuana. The foundation was founded by former
U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler, who helped spearhead the Drug Free
Florida committee that opposed the medical marijuana amendment in 2014.

After the election, however, Republicans took note of the broad
support for medical marijuana.

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, told the Bradenton Herald last week that
the issue had a better shot of passing this year. 'It would need to be
very strictly regulated,' Steube told the paper. 'We would want the
bill to say, 'Here are the medical issues you can take it for, that's
it.'' Brandes' bill does spell out these specific medical conditions:
cancer, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV),
acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), epilepsy, amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease,
Parkinson's disease, cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe and
persistent pain, severe and persistent nausea, persistent seizures,
severe and persistent muscle spasms.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt