Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said Thursday he'll approve legislation legalizing a medical marijuana extract low in THC to treat patients and children suffering from conditions that include epilepsy.
Despite his opposition to medical marijuana, Scott told The Associated Press he would sign the so-called Charlotte's Web bill, which passed the Republican-controlled state House with bipartisan support on Thursday. Charlotte's Web, a marijuana strain low in the compound THC that gets users high, has been shown to curb seizures in children with intractable epilepsy not controlled by traditional medication.
"I'm a parent and a grandparent," Scott said. "I want to make sure my children, my grandchildren have access to the health care they want."
The state Senate passed the bill on Monday and, due to some changes by the House, will have to vote again before Scott can sign it. Still, his pledge of support surprised advocates, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
As governor, Scott has waged unsuccessful efforts to drug-test welfare recipients and state employees. Scott said in January he intends to vote against a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this year that would allow patients to obtain full-fledged medical marijuana.
"I have a great deal of empathy for people battling difficult diseases and I understand arguments in favor of this initiative," Scott said, according to NBC Miami. "But, having seen the terrible effects of alcohol and drug abuse first-hand, I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path and I would personally vote against it."
United for Care, the committee sponsoring the medical marijuana initiative, praised Scott for backing the Charlotte's Web bill, in a press release Thursday.
“This is great news for tens of thousands of patients across Florida who are that much closer to receiving the medicine they need to dramatically improve their health,” said Ben Pollara, the group's campaign manager. “Although this is a significant step forward for our cause, the only complete and permanent solution for all those Floridians who need cannabis to relieve their symptoms from a wide range of debilitating conditions will be the approval of Amendment 2 by voters in November.”
Scott's likely Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, supports the medical marijuana initiative. A top Crist supporter, lawyer John Morgan, funded the effort to place the amendment on the ballot.
Democrats believe the medical marijuana initiative can help them turn out supporters in the midterm elections this fall.
Bills to legalize the marijuana extract cannabidiol -- the non-psychoactive ingredient in the plant -- have been introduced in several states, and Alabama approved similar legislation in March. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) said Thursday that he'll back a bill to allow its use in his state.