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Bills to legalize medical marijuana introduced in Florida

Marijuana plants are displayed for sale at Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, November 27, 2012 file photo. REUTE
Marijuana plants are displayed for sale at Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, November 27, 2012 file photo. REUTE

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida state legislators introduced identical bills on Monday to legalize medical marijuana treatment in the 2014 legislative session, in a bid to win approval before a constitutional amendment on the issue comes up for a public vote in November.

Senators Jeff Clemens and Joe Saunders, both Democrats, brought numerous patients and their family members to the unveiling of their bill, which would effectively implement by statute the constitutional amendment that is on the November ballot

"This bill puts patients before politics," said Cathy Jordan of Parrish, president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, who has lived 28 years with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig Disease.

Jordan, whose speech is slurred by her illness, sat in her wheelchair next to her husband, Robert, who read her statement at a news conference in front of the Florida Senate.

The amendment, and the newly introduced legislation, would specify tight state regulation for doctors to prescribe marijuana for treatment of conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS and other severe afflictions.

Identically worded bills were introduced in both houses of the state legislature on Monday, offering greater ease of passage.

The session starting March 4 will mark the fourth year such a bill has been introduced. Republican legislative leaders, along with Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, vigorously oppose the constitutional amendment.

The Florida Supreme Court approved the ballot language on the amendment, though, and it will become law if 60 percent of the voters approve it next November.

Polls show the ballot proposal has a strong chance of success. If the amendment passes, Saunders said the 2015 Legislature will have to pass implementing legislation specifying "how will we grow it, how will people who need it get access to it and how will those who are seeking to abuse it receive consequences?

While Republican leaders oppose the medical marijuana amendment, a separate bill allowing use of a non-euphoric marijuana extract known as "Charlotte's Web" is also making progress in the Florida House. The derivative is drawn from a portion of the marijuana plant that does not get users high, but has shown results in treating seizures.

The constitutional amendment is seen as a driver for Democratic voter turnout at the polls in November. The petition campaign that put it on the ballot was bankrolled by Orlando attorney John Morgan, a close ally of former Governor Charlie Crist, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for another term as governor.

Crist supports the amendment and political observers expect the referendum will draw more young and minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic.

(Reporting by David Adams; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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