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Senate's final committee clears medical pot bill as governor remains noncommittal

Despite concerns from the governor’s surgeon general, a bill to legalize a limited strain of marijuana extract to help children with intractable epilepsy cleared its final Senate committee on Tuesday.

The bill, SB 1030, was amended to now be closer to a House version, HB 843, which was adopted on a 15-3 vote by a House committee on Monday. Both bills now require that for a patient to be eligible to receive a legalized form of marijuana extract be placed on a Compassionate Use Registry by his or her treating physician. Both bills head to the floor next for a vote.

Under both proposals, the bill create a distribution system for marijuana extract that could serve as the framework for the regulation of medical marijuana in the future. Voters will be asked in November to approve Amendment 2, the constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for debilitating medical conditions, and legislation that passes this session could limit its effect.

The Senate adopted an amendment to bring the Senate bill closer to the House bill but, unlike the House, the Senate does not expand the applicable use of the marijuana extract to other ailments.

The House expands the bill to go beyond helping children with epilepsy to cover patients with Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimers, post traumatic stress disorder and cancer.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, one of the Senate sponsors of the bill said the Senate is not supportive of adding the other illnesses. 

“The Senate is pretty clear we’re not interested in expanding beyond the very limited scope,’’ Bradley told the Herald/Times.

The Senate requires that a physician who is treating a patient must have a relationship with the patient for at least two months before the doctor can recommend someone be added to the compassionate use registry.

Surgeon General John Armstrong testified before the House committee Tuesday that the proposal may have unintended consequences if the marijuana is not sufficiently regulated and its purity controlled.

Bradley said he is working with Armstrong and has included provisions in the bill that provides for quality control through inspections, record-keeping and inspection from law enforcement agencies.

“I still think it’s a work in progress,’’ Bradley said.

Gov. Rick Scott, who has refrained from committing to the bill, would not say Tuesday whether he would veto the bill in its current form but he told the Herald/Times that he is supportive of efforts to “help families deal with debilitating diseases.”