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Florida parents urge legalization of strain of medical marijuana

Florida parents of children with epilepsy are seeking the legalization of a strain of marijuana that will control their seizures.
Florida parents of children with epilepsy are seeking the legalization of a strain of marijuana that will control their seizures.
Uriel Sinai_Getty Images

Parents whose children who suffer epileptic seizures appealed to Florida lawmakers to legalize a low-potency strain of medical marijuana at a Jan. 9 legislative hearing in Tallahassee.

In the two-hour meeting before the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, legislators heard testimony from parents from around the state whose children endure multiple seizures each day. Parent after parent pleaded with the lawmakers to legalize a strain of marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web. Rich in cannabidiol (CBD), an ingredient that controls seizures, the strain is low in THC, the compound that creates a high.

Charlotte’s Web is not smoked, but rather is used as an oil that can be applied in food or administered through a feeding tube. At this time it is only available in Colorado, where marijuana became legal Jan. 1.

Appearing at the hearing in support of the Florida parents, Paige Figi, the mother of the 7-year-old Colorado girl for whom the strain is named, testified to its efficacy. Diagnosed with Dravet’s Syndrome, a rare and intractable form of epilepsy, Charlotte was having 300 grand mal seizures a week.

After two years of being treated with the oil, Charlotte “is 99 percent, almost 100 percent seizure free. She has about one or two seizures a month now, from 1,200,” said Figi.

Other parents, many who brought their children with them, testified to the horrors of watching their children suffer numerous and potentially lethal seizures.

“My son’s first seizure was at 3 months," said one mother. “His seizures are not controlled by medication. You never know when they are going to go into a [fatal] seizure and you have to say your goodbyes.”

Like other parents who testified, she is considering moving to Colorado if Charlotte’s Web is not legalized in Florida.

The urgency and emotions of the parents’ messages did not go unheeded. Rep. Matt Gaetz, chair of the subcommittee agreed to introduce a bill to legalize Charlotte’s Web.

“I am going to ask Speaker Weatherford to approve a proposed committee bill that will contain this language for Charlotte’s Web so that these people do not have to be criminals,” said Gaetz at the end of the meeting.

Others on the committee agreed.

“I am moved by the compassion of all of this,” Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Baptist preacher and conservative member of the House, told the Miami Herald.

Though opposed to marijuana, he admitted that when it comes to using the herb to treat a specific malady, “I don’t think this is substance abuse. I think it’s using it wisely.”

However, passage of a bill legalizing Charlotte’s Webb is not without its detractors. Depsite public support for the bill, legislative leaders, the governor and the attorney general oppose a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana and are challenging it in court.

When questioned about allowing access to Charlotte’s Web for children with seizures, Gov. Rick Scott told the Tampa Bay Times, “I oppose illegal drug abuse. I’ve watched what it does to families. I think the attorney general has done the right thing with the advice she gave the Supreme Court. Have a great day!”

At this time, medical marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington.

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