Medical marijuana is on the Florida ballot this November in the form of a constitutional amendment and, if the measure passes by a 60 percent majority, will become a prescription drug.
United for Care, the medical lobbying group out of Orlando responsible for proposing the amendment, was created to help patients who say they need marijuana to improve their lives. Campaign manager Ben Pollara said the current illegality has adverse effects on the overall health of Florida.
“There are hundreds of thousands of sick patients suffering from diseases including many forms of cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, wasting-away syndrome, severe seizures and glaucoma in Florida that have tried all other alternative medicines. Marijuana is the most effective treatment for these aliments,” said Pollara. “Instead doctors are prescribing addictive painkillers with terrible side effects.”
Contested health benefits aside, Sherriff Grady Judd, the president of the Florida Sherriff’s Association, is an outspoken opponent of the bill because of loopholes in the law.
“If you look at Washington and Colorado they started with medical marijuana. [This] constitutional amendment as written has gaping loopholes. For example, saying for those in severe pain, chronic diseases, HIV, cancer and other conditions — not specifying what those conditions are. Second is it speaks of caregivers controlling the substance, which is anyone over 21 years of age. A caregiver could be friend or felon and they are allowed up to five patients,” said Judd. “It’s a train wreck. I would rather see a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for decriminalizing marijuana.”
Florida Keys Tourist Development Council Director Harold Wheeler also serves as the vice-chair of Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organization. He said if the amendment is approved, it could result in what’s known as “medical tourism.”
“Medical tourism is a big draw in certain parts of the country. Many areas have become destinations for surgeries and other specialized procedures. If medical marijuana is legalized, I don’ think it would have much affect on Key West tourism,” Wheeler said. “But [the TDC] would most likely do studies if the bill passes. We would be interested in the affects this has had in other areas of the country.
“I don’t think it would hurt us. There are stores downtown selling devices for marijuana use and that hasn’t deterred people from coming to Key West,” Wheeler added.
There is no talk yet of making marijuana use legal across the board, however that’s exactly what happened in Washington and Colorado following the approval of medical use. Brent Burrows is an investment advisor from Centennial, Colorado vacationing in Key West with his brother. He said he’s watched the laws in his home state transform marijuana use from illegal, to medical use, and now recreational use. He said he sees only positive impacts from decriminalizing the plant.
“Colorado is no different then it was before legalization. Everybody is not high and you cannot just smoke weed in the streets,” said Burrows. “The tax revenue is phenomenal and that is what is bringing interest to other states. It also eliminates criminal activity. In ten years it will be decriminalized federally.”
Monroe county district State Attorney Catherine Vogel is watching the legislation unfold.
“I think we’ve reached critical mass and it’s inevitable that you will see legalization,” said Vogel, “but if it’s going to be legalized, I certainly want to see some parameters on it. House bill 843 says marijuana can be allowed for ‘Charlotte’s Web’ use (epilepsy and conditions treatable with the drug). Florida can’t just completely deregulate the sale and possession of marijuana. Right now, this legislation would make it possible to sell marijuana across the street from a daycare. If they want to (pass this legislation), they have to do it in a responsible way.”
BALLOT TITLE: Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions
BALLOT SUMMARY: Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana
— source: election.dos.state.fl.us