ST. PETERSBURG — An organizer 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 concerns about legal implications.
Ben Pollara, spokesman for the John Morgan-backed 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.
Heavy voter support — as much as 80 percent in some polls — proves the subject is not as fraught as opponents think it is, either, Pollara said.
"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 regimen 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 has contended that a measure in the amendment would allow patients and doctors to evade responsibility for criminal acts committed while high on the drug. But the civil immunity clause means, for instance, that caregivers would be safe to possess and distribute marijuana to patients, even though it's still illegal under federal law. Everyone would still be on the hook for obeying laws, such as those against driving under the influence.
Debate over the amendment allowing doctors to recommend cannabis for "other conditions" not listed among approved ailments is to avoid politicians and laymen 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.
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 winter residents. Nearly 1,800 cannabis-based businesses 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 thrill seekers, Pollara said.
As far as saying the amendment is weak on specifics about the drug, Pollara said 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.