Time for Florida to legalize the medical use of marijuana

February 28, 2013 

If Florida's political leaders need a strong case for supporting the medicinal use of marijuana, Cathy Jordan would be the poster patient. The wheelchair-bound Parrish resident was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1986 and began regularly smoking cannabis to combat symptoms in 1989. Marijuana use allowed her to quit eight of her nine pharmaceutical medications.

The cannabis also serves as a muscle relaxant, anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory. Plus, by smoking one or two joints before breakfast and sometimes one at night, Jordan also regained her appetite. In another significant impact, the marijuana helps clear her broncial tube of phlem -- often the cause of the fatal suffocation of patients with Lou Gehrig's disease.

"It is literally saving her life," her husband, Robert Jordan, told Herald reporter Elizabeth Johnson this week.

The Legislature and governor should also contemplate a new poll that found 70 percent of Florida voters back a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana -- far above the state's 60 percent threshold for passage of such ballot measures. Only 24 percent opposed the idea, according to the survey conducted for People United for Medical Marijuana (PUFMM).

Significantly, even a majority of Republicans -- as conservatives, long opposed to any easing of drug laws -- support an amendment. That 56 percent approval should help convince the Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP governor to support this idea.

PUFMM hopes to put the amendment proposal on the 2014 ballot. But the Legislature could enact legislation and accomplish the task sooner -- even this year under a proposal by state Sen. Jeff Clemens.

The Lake Worth Democrat is proposing the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act in honor of Jordan's 16-year struggle to change Florida law. In fact, the Jordans traveled to Tallahassee just last week in support of medical legalization.

The time has come for this humane and reasonable change. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted medical marijuana laws, even red states such as Arizona.

Clemens' sensible proposal requires a doctor's recommendation for cannabis use and builds a framework around legalization, citing treatment for such serious diseases as ALS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and others; limiting the number of plants patients could grow, and outlining how farms could operate. As he says, legalization "would not be for a sore elbow."

The measure, though, must be specific and not broad enough to allow abuse of the system -- as Florida witnessed with pill mills distributing powerful painkillers and other narcotics on flimsy prescriptions before laws were tightened.

Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat, is taking the lead on companion legislation in the House.

PUFMM will be challenged to collect the 683,149 valid signatures of Florida voters on citizen petitions in order to place an amendment proposal on the 2014 ballot. Should the Legislature fail to adopt the Clemens-Edwards legislation, lawmakers should place a constitutional amendment directly on the ballot and allow voters to exercise the will of the people.

Coincidentally on the same day the Miami Herald broke the news about the PUFMM poll, on Monday, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office drug intervention unit visited the Jordan home after a phone tip and confiscated 23 marijuana plants and some seedlings.

There were no arrests, and possible charges are in the hands of the state attorney's office.

Any charges are difficult to imagine under the circumstances.

"I'm asking for my right to life," Cathy Jordan told the Herald in the wake of the cannabis confiscation. "It's life or death for me. I don't have a way to live. You can't just offer people a way to die."

That's a convincing argument for a compassionate constitutional amendment or legislation to legalize the medical use of cannabis in Florida.

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