Sunday, June 24, 2018
Politics

Medical marijuana takes center stage at UT debate

TAMPA — Marijuana is not medicine, Dr. Eric Voth noted Monday night. Doctors cannot control the dose or its possibly toxic side effects, the internist told an audience at the University of Tampa gathered for a debate over medical marijuana.

If it were called "Substance X," any doctor who told a patient to smoke it until they felt better would be committing malpractice, he said.

Orlando attorney John Morgan took up the counterpoint, arguing that marijuana is a natural substance that can ease suffering for hundreds of thousands of Floridians.

"I don't know why it works, but it does,'' Morgan said. "I don't know why water works either, but I trust it.''

Those contrary views represented early salvos as the campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Florida shifts from petition gathering to voter persuasion.

Morgan, who spent about $4  million to get a constitutional amendment on the November election ballot, has become the dominant public face of medical marijuana in Florida. Also arguing in favor of the proposed amendment was Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, which has long advocated for full legalization of recreational pot.

Only the states of Colorado and Washington allow pot for nonmedical use. Polls show that Floridians strongly favor medical marijuana, but oppose full legalization. Morgan usually tries to distance himself from the likes of NORML.

On Monday, beneath the glare of TV cameras, Morgan nearly recoiled when St. Pierre introduced himself.

"I'm on your side,'' St. Pierre said.

"You're on my side?'' Morgan responded. "You are for legalization.''

"Don't worry. We won't get into that much,'' said St. Pierre.

But Voth, chairman of the Institute on Global Drug Policy, a subsidiary of St. Petersburg's Drug Free America Foundation, was only too glad to raise the specter of legalization, referring frequently to the "drug lobby'' and "special interests.''

"Make no mistake,'' Voth told the crowd of about 300, "The end game is legalization.''

The proposed amendment would allow people with chronic debilitating conditions to use marijuana if a licensed doctor recommends it in writing. The pot would be sold at state regulated dispensaries.

Kevin Sabet, director of the Institute on Drug Policy at the University of Florida, joined Voth in arguing against the amendment, saying it is too loosely drawn. Anyone of any age could get pot for any reason, according to the ballot language, he said, echoing those who believe the word "debilitating'' is too vague. Florida, notorious for opiate-based pill mills, will then end up with pot mills as well, he said.

Chemical substances found in marijuana can indeed have medical uses, Sabet said, but drug companies are starting to develop derivatives in safe pill form so patients don't have to rely on pot purveyors with no medical or scientific training.

At times, the debate grew heated and personal. Sabet advised the last three presidents on drug policy and spoke of how the UF institute is devoted to combating drug abuse. Morgan accused Sabet of making a living by opposing marijuana initiatives all over the country, or "selling fear.''

Sabet accused Morgan of twisting facts, "which I guess is a virtue in your profession.''

St. Pierre predicted that the amendment, which would require a 60 percent or better vote to pass, is a done deal. "This is about personal freedom and self-preservation,'' he told a mostly appreciative crowd. "And you can't win in America when you fight personal freedom and self-preservation.''

Contact Stephen Nohlgren at [email protected]

 
Comments
Why a small-town restaurant owner asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave - and would do it again

Why a small-town restaurant owner asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave - and would do it again

LEXINGTON, Va. - Stephanie Wilkinson was at home Friday evening - nearly 200 miles from the White House - when the choice presented itself.Her phone rang about 8 p.m. It was the chef at the Red Hen, the tiny farm-to-table restaurant that she co-owned...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six local candidates across Tampa Bay — all county commissioners and city council members — effectively won their elections Friday by default: No one qualified to run against them.The rest still have a fight.Some will square off in an Aug. 28 primary...
Published: 06/22/18
Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

TAMPA — A Democrat has officially joined the race for Hillsborough County sheriff.Gary Pruitt, a 50-year-old former Tampa police corporal who now works as director of security at a local mall, qualified Friday to challenge Republican Sheriff Chad Chr...
Published: 06/22/18
Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

So Hillsborough County commissioners — most of them, anyway — want voters to consider dropping political parties from certain elections, making those races nonpartisan instead.This would mean when you go to vote in those elections, you won’t know if ...
Published: 06/22/18
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18