By Mary Wozniak, news-press.com
MARIJUANA LOSING STIGMA
Across political and generational boundaries, when it comes to pot, we're becoming much more liberal.
With six months to go before the November ballot, it appears the wave of support for legalization of medical marijuana is building to a crescendo.
A new poll shows nearly 9 of 10 Florida voters support Amendment 2. It would amend the state constitution to make legal use of pot for medical purposes.
Also, the overwhelming passage Friday of the Charlotte's Web legislative bill, allowing one specific strain of pot to be used to alleviate severe seizures, has supporters riding high.
They, along with some politicians and political experts, say it all points to an increasingly likely victory in November.
The poll from Quinnipiac University, in Connecticut, says 88 percent of Florida voters now support allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes, if a doctor prescribes it. That's 17 points higher than the 70 percent reported in a consultant's 2013 poll for the United for Care campaign, which leads the push for legality. However, another new poll done by a marketing company in Winter Springs says support is at 60 percent.
Susan MacManus, professor of public administration and political science at the University of South Florida, cautioned against relying on polls. The bottom line is the law says the amendment has to pass by 60 percent of the vote. If the vote on Nov. 2 is any less than that, the measure fails.
"Most of the polls say if the election were held today, it would pass. But the election is not being held today," she said.
However, "Unless significant opposition is raised between now and Election Day, it looks like this amendment may pass," MacManus said.
The consensus is passage of the Charlotte's Web bill by the Legislature will help the movement.
"Yes, I think it's going to help us with momentum," said John Morgan, the Orlando-based attorney who is chairman of People United for Medical Marijuana. He spearheaded the campaign, dubbed United for Care, to make medical marijuana legal. He also spent $4 million of his own money.
"A year ago, the governor said he would never support any form of medical marijuana. He's going to," Morgan said Tuesday. "One of the biggest arguments has been marijuana should never be given to children. This is only about children, primarily. A year ago, we couldn't even have a discussion. Now we've got law. It's going to happen."
The bill, passed in the waning hours of the legislative session, says the strain of marijuana called Charlotte's Web may be used to help those who suffer from a severe form of epileptic seizures. The strain is low in THC, the substance that creates a high, and would be administered as an oil.
Gov. Rick Scott was against the bill, and he even had the Florida surgeon general testify against it before the Legislature. But after the bill passed, Scott said he would sign it.
While backers of medical marijuana were happy, they complained the bill does nothing to support others who need pot's benefits, including those suffering from cancer, AIDS, neuropathic pain and debilitating ailments.
Charlotte's Web represents a big admission by the Legislature, said Ben Pollara, manager of the United for Care campaign. "It really validates the arguments we've been making in the course of the campaign, which is marijuana is medicine."
But it doesn't go far enough, he said.
Critics also complain the strict regulations outlined in a last-minute amendment to the bill are overly restrictive and hurt small business. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, limits the number of growers/dispensaries to five, one each in northwestern, northeastern, central, southeastern and southwestern portions of the state. Only nurseries in the state that have been in business for at least 30 uninterrupted years can qualify. The established nurseries, which must also grow more than 400,000 plants, would have to be certified by the Department of Agriculture.
Caldwell said he was trying to make it easier for the Department of Health. With no criteria the department would be inundated with hundreds of applications, he said. The plants have to be grown in a highly contained environment by people who understand plant biology, he said.
The short list has 21 nurseries. None are in Lee or Collier counties, but Caldwell said listed nurseries in Zolfo Springs and Venus count as Southwest Florida. Also, there will be new nurseries aging in each year and "I'm sure we will revisit the structure once we get a grip on real demand," he said.
Caldwell is co-sponsor of the original version of the bill in the House, but he also is amenable to the legalization of medical marijuana. "In my campaigns, I have been consistent in following the will of the voters on this issue, but as a personal matter I believe that legalization of medical marijuana is no more a serious risk to public health than tobacco or alcohol," he said.
Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, a sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said a lot of people don't understand what the Charlotte's Web strain is. "People are scared of marijuana," he said. "The bill shatters stereotypes."
Yet Bean is against Amendment 2. The amendment is too broad, he said. "It's bad for Florida." Bean said he has three teenage children and doesn't want them to have access to medical pot. "Under the proposal of this amendment a college student can say he's stressed, go to a doctor and qualify for a prescription. That's not properly written."
The petition to put the amendment on the Florida ballot required 683,000 signatures. United for Care gathered 786,368 validated signatures, Pollara said.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Maryland will be the 21st state when its law goes into effect June 1. Colorado and Washington also have legalized pot for recreational use.
Maria Botker prepares daughter Greta, 7, for dinner at their new Colorado home Feb. 6, 2014. Greta is prescribed cannabis oil, for severe seizures, which is extracted from a genetically modified strain of marijuana called Charlotte's Web which produces a low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) yield and high CDB (Cannabidiol) yield.(Photo: Nathan Armes for USA TODAY)
ISSUE HITS HOME
Politicians and groups in the state against medical marijuana include Attorney General Pam Bondi, who filed a brief arguing against the amendment with the Florida Supreme Court; the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Medical Association.
Morgan is backing Amendment 2 because his father used marijuana in his final days when he was suffering from esophageal cancer and emphysema. "He was a big anti-drug guy," Morgan said. But his father's suffering was so severe Morgan suggested the remedy. "Finally I said, 'Daddy, I don't know what difference it makes at the end of your life here. You can die or you can die with dignity.' "
Morgan's brother, Tim, a quadriplegic, also uses medical marijuana, Morgan said. "If Tim took the drugs they wanted him to take for the pain, it would put a horse down," Morgan said. Marijuana takes away his pain instantaneously, Morgan said. "He doesn't want to be hooked on OxyContin, Xanax or Percocet."
Clinical trials aren't needed, Morgan said. "I've had clinical trials in my own family twice. I know it works."
What's next for medical marijuana in Florida
• Gov. Rick Scott announced he will sign the Charlotte's Web bill that allows low-potency pot in narrow cases.
• On Nov. 2, voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would allow use under a doctor's supervision.
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