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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Medical cannabis concerns unfounded, Amendment 2 organizer says



The organizers of Florida’s medical marijuana amendment beat back the latest round of opponents’ attacks Thursday, contending that the proposal says more than enough to address any concerns about the amendment’s legal implications..

Ben Pollara, spokesman for the pro-amendment group United for Care, told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Thursday that Amendment 2 is not a veiled effort toward total marijuana legalization. That was among the charges made last week in a visit to the board from a group representing the Drug Free America Foundation.

Pollara dismissed counterpoints that the amendment, which would allow the state to legalize medical marijuana and set up a dispensary system, isn’t about de facto legalization. 

Heavy voter support — as much as 80 percent in some polls — proves the subject is not as controversial as opponents think it is, either, Pollara said. Most people support medical marijuana, even if they don’t like the idea of recreational use.

“I think that’s because this is really not a controversial position for most Floridians,” he said. “The doctor recommends a type of treatment to their patient, whether it’s exercise or a multivitamin or a new dietary regime or the use of medical marijuana, the patient should be able to follow their doctor’s advice without having to live like a criminal.”

Drug Free America had contended that a measure in the amendment would allow patients and doctors to evade responsibility for criminal acts committed while high on the drug. The part about civil immunity only applies to the act of recommending medical marijuana, and patients are covered for the use of the drug, which would still be illegal under federal law, Pollara said. Caregivers would be safe to possess and distribute marijuana to patients, but everyone would still be on the hook for violating other existing laws, such as driving under the influence.. 

Debate over the amendment’s allowances for doctors to recommend cannabis for “other conditions” not listed in the list of approved ailments is to avoid politicians and laypersons from making medical decisions, he added.

“It is broad for the doctor to decide, but (the condition for which it is recommended) must be debilitating, and that’s been another point that the opposition seems to have been willfully ignorant on,” Pollara said. 

He cited the Florida Supreme Court’s January ruling that the amendment’s ballot summary sufficiently noted the drug would also be applicable to “debilitating medical conditions” beyond the ailments listed in the amendment. Those specific conditions are HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Worries that marijuana use would be widespread and “marijuana tourism” would result also are unfounded, Pollara said. 

Using Florida Department of Health projections based on Colorado law, he said about 417,000 people in Florida would qualify as medical marijuana patients, with about 40,000 of those being snowbirds. Nearly 1,800 cannabis-based business would be established, and even though the amendment allows for people outside of Florida to be patients here, the verification process for the statewide registry would deter most thrillseekers, he said.

Further debate over the efficacy of and research into cannabis tends to ignore that the drug isn’t studied precisely because it’s classified by the federal government as a Schedule I substance, meaning there’s a high probability of addiction and no known medical benefits. Both elements are arguably untrue, he said and arguing otherwise ignores that FDA-regulate substances are often much more dangerous than marijuana.

As far as saying the amendment is weak on specifics about the drug, the state is free to make regulations as strict as they want. Just because there’s a nine-month time frame to institute the system doesn’t mean the Legislature can’t tinker with that system after the fact.

“Florida is in a unique position on the precipice of being the 24th state to do this, with 26 that have not, to set kind of the new, moving-forward standard of how to implement a medical marijuana standard,” he said. “I believe Amendment 2 is written in such a way that it preserves the basics of patient access while allowing the state to have a pretty good liberty to determine what is best for the state of Florida.”

[Last modified: Thursday, August 28, 2014 4:04pm]


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