First Coast Connect
4:09 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

Debate Continues As Medical Marijuana Advocates Face Petition Deadline

A petition for a ballot initiative asking Florida voters to legalize medical marijuana might be headed for a photo finish.

Medical marijuana advocacy group United For Care have less than 20 days to gather and submit more than 683,000 valid voter signatures.

In November, a Quinnipiac University poll found 82 percent of Florida voters favor legalizing marijuana that is prescribed by a doctor. Whether voters will ever get a say is still an open question.

Attorney John Morgan, of United For Care, joined Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at University of Florida, and Susan Pitman, executive director of Drug Free Duval to discuss the issues on First Coast Connect.

First Coast Connect: John Morgan, Kevin Sabet of the Drug Policy Institute at University of Florida, and Susan Pitman, executive director of Drug Free Duval on the medical marijuana debate

Morgan said the issue is personal, describing the struggle of his brother, who is quadriplegic.

A close-up image of a dried, potent, cannabis bud from a strain named "Mountain Jam."
Credit Ryan Bushby / Wikimedia Commons

"If he took the medicine that experts want to give him everyday it's enough to knock an ox down," he said, describing whole body seizures. "One toke of a marijuana cigarette makes it all go away."

Morgan believes the drug could help people with conditions like cancer, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.

Even if the measure gains enough signatures, it still may not make it onto the ballot. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has brought the proposed legislation before the Florida State Supreme Court, arguing that it could lead to making pot available for recreational use.

"That has been the experience in most other states that have laws similar to the one we may have in Florida," said Kevin Sabet of UF's Drug Policy Institute.

Sabet said that while some of the components of marijuana have medical value, the law as written would make the drug available for minor ailments, opening the door to abuse.

"This is sort of a square peg in a round hole that certainly might have unintended consequences just because of the broad nature of the way it is written," he said.

Susan Pitman of Drug Free Duval said there are misconceptions about how the law would work. She gave the example of her father, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, and would likely be eligible for a medical marijuana license under the law.

"I could roll him to the medical marijuana dispensary, which will not be a CVS or a pharmacy because it's not an approved FDA drug, where a person at a pot shop will be helping us try to determine what the best pot for my dad will be," she said.

"That person is not a (Doctor of Pharmacy) and won't help us understand the interactions with the 17 other drugs he takes," she said, noting the effects marijuana could have on a Parkinson's patient who is also suffering from depression or psychosis.

Morgan called those concerns "total BS" and "fear mongering."

"They legalized marijuana straight-up in Colorado last week and guess what, the world didn't end," he said.

Sabet countered that several medical associations have concluded through research that smoking marijuana is not the best form of delivery for it's medicinal properties, and also spoke to Morgan's mention of Colorado's recent total legalization of the drug.

"This is an agenda, as we've seen around the country, that's the first step toward the legalization of marijuana," he said.

The deadline for petitioners to submit signatures is February 1.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax Patrick Donges on Twitter at @patrickhdonges.

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