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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Bob Gualtieri, Drug Free America worry about broad medical marijuana language



It’s not that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is against access to the potential medical benefits of marijuana; He’s worried about the side effects.

During a visit to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Wednesday, Gualtieri expressed dismay about Amendment 2, the medical marijuana initiative on this November’s ballot. Gualtieri, constitutional attorney Susan Kelsey and Dr. Rafael Miguel of the Sarasota Memorial Institute for Advanced Medicine’s Pain Medicine Program, were representing Drug Free America’s campaign against the amendment.


The sheriff said the broad language of the proposal leaves plenty of room for potential pitfalls, not the least of which is making access to marijuana easier for addicts. He added he wasn’t sure that the state Department of Health would be able to institute sufficient controls to manage cultivation and distribution of the drug within the time frame specified under the amendment.

Gualtieri did say he didn’t object to proven medical uses for cannabinoids, like the recently approved seizure medication, Charlotte’s Web. He would prefer a medical marijuana amendment focused on specific medical uses instead of the amendment’s general language about debilitating conditions, which he equates to recreational use.


“If it was crafted a lot differently than it is, then I’d be more for it,” Gualtieri said of Amendment 2.


Miguel said from a medical standpoint, concentrating on legalizing the smokeable form of the drug presented all kinds of problems, such as dosage and regulation. He said arguments that medical cannabis is more natural than prescription drugs and promises that only doctors of medicine and osteopathy would be allowed to recommend the drug are not guaranteed in the initiative’s language.


Furthermore, the distribution model broadly described in the amendment could lead to unintended consequences, he said. For example: Unlike prescriptions from a doctor, Miguel said, a marijuana recommendation has no time limit.


“You don’t get refills, you get it forever,” he said. “There’s no regulation on consumption.”


One thing you can practically count on is that the amendment would eventually be brought to the Florida Supreme Court to interpret what it means, Kelsey said. The Legislature, who would be in charge of making sure the right to medical marijuana is implemented should Amendment 2 pass, can’t restrict any right put forth in the wording of the proposal.


She said that of the 24 states that currently have medical marijuana laws, 17 have amended the statutes as many as five times. Florida would not have that luxury, as the Legislature doesn’t have the power to simply change the state Constitution.


A medical marijuana bill has been introduced in the Legislature for two years in a row but has gone nowhere. The only other state that has a constitutional amendment for the drug is Nevada, she said. There’s also some question as to whether cities or towns could enact any law that would restrict when and where the drug was used.


Even more troublesome is wording in the amendment that limits both criminal and civil liability, Kelsey said. The civil immunity wording is included to protect patients from losing custody battles or employment actions because they use medical marijuana, proponents say, but Kelsey said that could cover any act that would normally result in a lawsuit.


“No other state extends it to civil immunity,” she said. “We would be the only one that says there’s no civil liability for whatever we do.”


Widespread support for the amendment, tracking as high as 82 percent, comes down to people not understanding the proposal as it’s written, Kelsey said.


“People are totally uneducated about it,” the sheriff said, adding the Amendment 2 campaign was “subterfuge” to legalize the drug. “This is disingenuous, calling this medical marijuana.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 4:37pm]


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