PARRISH -- A statewide organization lobbying to legalize medical marijuana plans to petition the Florida Secretary of State seeking to change the state Constitution.
"I have the finished product in front of me," said John Morgan, an Orlando attorney and chairman of the United for Care campaign.
The petition campaign is run by People United for Medical Marijuana, the group soliciting roughly 700,000 signatures needed to place the item on the 2014 general election ballot.
"I'm going to have it delivered to the Secretary of State Office by Friday or early next week at the latest," said Morgan, a principal in the personal injury law firm of Morgan and Morgan.
Ben Pollara, founding partner of the Coral Gables consulting firm, LSN Partners, asked Morgan to get involved in the petition drive.
"He said he needed somebody to put a face to the campaign," Morgan said. "So I decided to do it."
State constitutional expert Jon Mills, former Florida House Speaker and past University of Florida law school dean, has been working on ballot wording for months so it will pass Florida Supreme Court scrutiny, Pollara said.
Whether through an amendment to the Florida Constitution or legislation, Cathy Jordan of Parrish just wants the medical use of marijuana legalized.
"People like me can't wait until 2014," Jordan said.
She has suffered for more than 30 years from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often called Lou Gehrig's disease.
"If you're terminal, you can't wait," she said.
The National Institute of Health reports most ALS patients die within three to five years after symptoms begin to appear.
Jordan said she believes she beat the odds by smoking marijuana.
After hearing that smoking the dried buds of the cannabis sativa L. plant helps people with ALS and other diseases, she and her husband, Robert Jordan, decided it was worth the risk of being arrested.
"If we stop doing what we're doing, she's going to die," said Robert Jordan, 64.
"All I know is my wife gets sick when she doesn't have it."
Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies raided the Jordan home in February and confiscated 23 marijuana plants Jordan was growing for his wife's medicinal use.
In April, Assistant State Attorney Brian Iten decided not to prosecute the case in light of Cathy Jordan's medical need for the herb.
The Jordans have lobbied to change state law for more than 16 years to allow her to smoke marijuana legally.
As president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, Cathy Jordan lobbied state senators and representatives in Tallahassee during the last two sessions of the Legislature to have a bill in her name on the regulation of medical cannabis heard in front of legislative committees.
But Legislature leaders have refused to allow a hearing on the issue.
That's why Pollara decided to bypass the politicians and bring the question to the people with a petition drive.
"Look what happened during the last legislative session," he said. "There's a poll saying 70 percent of the people are for it and they don't even have a hearing."
Pollara's statewide poll in January and February found 70 percent of Florida voters support a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana laws have already been enacted in 19 states and the District of Columbia, ranging from tight controls for medical applications only to casual recreational use.
Morgan said he supports legalizing marijuana for medical purposes for two reasons.
First, his father had emphysema and esophageal cancer and he saw how using marijuana helped relieve his pain.
"Also, as a personal injury attorney I've seen people in pain who end up on oxycodone," he said. "And 16,000 people die from that every year. It's highly addictive. Legalizing marijuana is a no brainer."
But strong opposition remains to legalizing medical marijuana.
The Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition, a local organization dedicated to reduce drug, alcohol and tobacco use, has posted a Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association white paper on medical marijuana on its website, stating: "States that have established medical marijuana programs have experienced widespread program abuse. In states that track conditions under which people qualify to use medical marijuana, on average, only 7 percent of patients have terminal or life-threatening illnesses. The vast majority are smoking marijuana for pain (a subjective term that is being used to cover medical conditions such as menstrual cramps, headaches and minor arthritis). The idea of treating pain with smoked marijuana is of particular concern for Florida, as we are experiencing an epidemic of prescription drug abuse."
Morgan said he plans to help raise $2 million to $3 million to get petition signatures, and up to $20 million to run a successful campaign. Along with having paid signature collectors, he will solicit volunteers from the public.
"I'll be looking for an Army of Angels," Morgan said. "I'm going to advertise for people to come to my offices and pick up petitions. I believe this will be a grass-roots campaign. Thousands and thousands of people have e-mailed me -- cops, vets, doctors, everybody -- especially people who have seen the effects."
The Jordans and the Florida Cannabis Action Network aren't convinced a constitutional amendment is the right way to proceed. They say tight regulations are needed to prevent the state from being flooded with doctors willing to write prescriptions for marijuana to make money, similar to the pain pill mills that sprung up until Florida counties and the state passed tough regulations.
Knowing this, Pollara said his group wants the proposed amendment to have a structure for regulations.
"We don't want it to be like California," he said. "We're not in the campaign to have de facto legalization of marijuana, but make medical marijuana available for those who need it."
Jodi James, executive director of Florida Cannabis Action Network, said she believes legislation is a better way to achieve legalization of medical marijuana.
"A constitutional amendment that guarantees access does not necessarily provide safe access to those who medically need cannabis," James said.
Regardless of which route is successful, James said, "I'm fully confident that patients will have equal access to medical cannabis in 2014."