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Florida lawmakers approve medical marijuana bill

Buds are removed from a container at the "Oregon's Finest" medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon April 8, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Dip
Buds are removed from a container at the "Oregon's Finest" medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon April 8, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Dip

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida legislators voted on Friday to allow doctors to prescribe a special strain of "non-euphoric" marijuana for treatment of chronic epileptic seizures and some other severe illnesses.

Governor Rick Scott said he will sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

"They definitely made a difference in many people's lives today. It was historic," said Ron Watson, a lobbyist whose 8-year-old son, Dylan, died of leukemia.

Watson and several other parents, many wheeling their stricken children into the Capitol, testified at committee hearings and contacted House and Senate members throughout this year's 60-day session of the Florida Legislature.

The parents advocated strictly controlled legalization of a special form of marijuana known as "Charlotte's Web," named for a Colorado girl whose epileptic seizures have shown some response to the drug.

The substance is not for smoking. It is specially cultivated to be very low in tetrhydrocannabinol (THC), the element that gets users high, and also very low in cannabidiol (CBD), which eases seizures in the brain.

"I'm a parent and a grandparent," Scott told reporters on Thursday. "I want to make sure my children, my grandchildren, have the access to the health care they want."

The Senate voted 30-9 to send the bill to Scott on Friday.

That vote, and the 111-7 House passage a day earlier, marked a rare example of strong bipartisanship in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

The proposal was tightly drawn to allay fears of conservative lawmakers who generally oppose easing drug laws while allowing a "compassionate use" registry for the oil or vapor extract of a specially grown marijuana strain that is extremely low in the intoxicating ingredient pot users enjoy.

The bill does not legalize marijuana in smoking form, but authorizes designation of five dispensaries operated by established nursery owners, who will cultivate the special blend under closely regulated conditions.

The bill is not related to a constitutional amendment on November's Florida ballot by a public petition campaign that would allow doctors to prescribe regular marijuana for patients with severe disabilities.

It is estimated that Florida has 125,000 epilepsy sufferers. The House amended the bill to allow use of the drug for cancer and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Representative Dennis Baxley, a Republican, said he could not support the legislation. Despite tight legal restrictions, and although the low-THC strain cannot get users high, he said he feared it was a first step toward legalizing more drugs.

"This could be the rifle shot that starts a massive avalanche," Baxley said.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Gunna Dickson)

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