ST. PETERSBURG — It's not that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is against access to the potential medical benefits of marijuana — he's worried about the potential 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 recreational users and addicts, not just legitimate patients. He added he isn't sure 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 said he didn't object to proven medical uses for cannabinoids, such as the recently approved Charlotte's Web, administered as an oil for seizure disorders. He would prefer a medical marijuana amendment focused on specific medical uses instead of the amendment's references to debilitating conditions in general language, 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 that from a medical standpoint, concentrating on legalizing the smokeable form of the drug presented problems, such as dosage and regulation.
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."
Should Amendment 2 pass, the Legislature would be in charge of making sure the right to medical marijuana is implemented. It can't restrict any right put forth in the wording of the proposal, Kelsey said.
She said that of the 24 states that have medical marijuana laws, 17 have amended their statutes. Florida would not have that luxury because the Legislature doesn't have the power to change the state Constitution.
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 warned it could cover much more.
"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 that the Amendment 2 campaign was "subterfuge" to legalize the drug. "This is disingenuous, calling this medical marijuana."
Contact Joshua Gillin at [email protected] Follow @jpgillin.