Pot Amendment Puts Cloud Over Anti-Seizure Marijuana Debate

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Manager Paradise Hughes prepares a joint to sell to customers at the Alternative Herbal Health Services Cannabis Club.
Manager Paradise Hughes prepares a joint to sell to customers at the Alternative Herbal Health Services Cannabis Club.

Backers of a non-euphoric strain of cannabis that helps reduce seizures in children aren't giving up on a legislative fix, but the politics of pot could make their uphill battle even steeper.

A sharply divided Florida Supreme Court on Monday approved a ballot initiative that would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, rejecting arguments from Attorney General Pam Bondi, Republican legislative leaders and others that the proposal was misleading and would give doctors broad discretion over who would qualify for the pot.

Opposition to the medical marijuana proposal, which will be on the November ballot, could jeopardize the passage of a legislative measure that would legalize a marijuana extract known as "Charlotte's Web" that proponents believe can dramatically reduce seizures in children with a rare form of epilepsy. Florida is one of a handful of states including Georgia where Republican-led legislatures are grappling with making the strain legal.

Charlotte's Web is an extract of the marijuana derivative cannabidiol, or CBD, but is low in the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. The strain is oil-based, can be taken orally and doesn't get users high, unlike the medical marijuana that would be authorized under the constitutional proposal.

Backers of Charlotte's Web are trying to draw clear lines between the two types of medical marijuana with the aim of legislative approval in Florida this spring.

Even if the medical marijuana amendment receives the 60 percent approval necessary for passage, it could be years before pot is available to patients in Florida.

That's too long to wait, said Peyton Moseley, whose 10-year-old adopted daughter RayAnn is one of an estimated 125,000 children in Florida diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that can cause hundreds of seizures a day.

Legislative authorization "is still our daughter's and 125,000 other Floridians' best chance at getting this life-changing medicine quickly," Moseley said after Monday's court ruling. "Having the full-on legalization of medical marijuana on the ballot in November is fine and good, but if your child's life depended on her gaining access to a certain kind of medicine, would you want to leave that decision in the hands of the voters?"

But the court's decision to put the prescription pot question on the ballot could pose a conundrum for conservative lawmakers, already skeptical of the non-euphoric strain.

"I think after people analyze it they are going to kind of line up. They'll either say there is a right way involving these derivatives and there's a wrong way and contrast it with the amendment. Or they'll say people are going to get this all mixed up and think I'm for (medical marijuana). … It depends how their district reads and how they want to be seen," said House Judiciary Chairman Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

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