The medical marijuana advocacy group Empowering Wellness will host a bi-partisan conference in St. Petersburg Oct. 6 featuring marijuana friendly elected officials and industry representatives wanting to expand patient access to cannibis. Co-sponsors include U.S. Reps. Charlie Cris, D-St. Petersburg and Darren Soto, D-Orlando and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
"It is a pleasure to launch our first Empowering Wellness event with distinguished champions for medical marijuana from either side of the aisle," Ben Pollara, co-founder of Empowering Wellness, said in a statement. "If we remove the legal stigma around medical marijuana, thousands of American suffering from chronic pain stand to gain––from cancer patients to our veterans to children suffering from chronic seizures. This conference represents a continuation of that important conversation."
Access to medical marijuana could be a significant issue this year, and Empowering Wellness already has run digital ads promoting U.S. Reps. Soto and Matt Gaetz in their primaries. Pollara said the group has a budget in the mid six figures for more advertising in the general election.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott has been criticized for his administration's slow implementation of the measure supported by voters. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum supports legalization of marijuana for recreational use, while his Republican rival opposes that.
"Across our country, Americans largely desire to allow medical marijuana––it's why the majority of Floridians voted in 2016 to approve medical marijuana in our state," Brandes said. "This is an effective form of medicine, and it is important that we continue to further the conversation about expanding––not shrinking––access to care."
Crist: "Many Florida veterans depend on medical marijuana to address chronic pain and PTSD. But conflicts between federal and state laws are hindering their access to care. For those that medical marijuana provides a lifeline, it's time to act with compassion, changing laws that pose a barrier to this important treatment option."
Soto: "It's time to move cannabis from a Schedule I substance. I am looking forward to a substantive discussion about the need for a federal overhaul of our nation's marijuana policy, to ensure that we are granting patients access to the care they need."
The conference will be at Hilton Carillon Park Hotel.