Medicinal marijuana momentum encourages Parrish couple

Parrish couple at the forefront of changing views on stigmatized plant

rdymond@bradenton.comAugust 19, 2013 

MANATEE -- The battle to legalize medical marijuana has been a long one for Parrish's Cathy and Robert Jordan, who for 16 years have been telling all who will listen that medicinal marijuana use eases the discomfort from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Widespread acceptance of medicinal use of marijuana, once greeted with a smirk by disbelievers, is gaining credence in the medical profession. A case in point came Friday when CNN aired the documentary, "Weed," the Jordans said.

The show featured dramatic images of people being helped by medical marijuana, including a small girl whose hundreds of weekly epileptic seizures suddenly were curtailed through the use of marijuana, and a senior citizen in Israel whose symptoms of Parkinson's disease were eased.

CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who said he worked on the show for a year, said long-held American beliefs about cannabis, such as the plant having no real medical value, are simply not true.

For Gupta, it was the reversal of his own long-held views on marijuana.

As the Jordans watched the show Friday, they felt mainstream America had finally acknowledged them, they said.

"I looked over at Cathy during the show and said, 'Hon, we are here," Robert Jordan said. "' This is what we have been waiting for for years and years. Someone with credentials is standing up. Now, they are verifying what we have been saying. They're late to the party, but they're here'"

Gupta's show, however, created concern in the drug treatment community.

An official at the St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation told the Miami Herald the CNN documentary raised more questions than it answered.

"Many drug prevention, policy and treatment experts are confused by Gupta's position," Calvina Fay, executive director of Drug Free America, said in a written statement. "The big issue is really about what Dr. Gupta is not saying. He left it unclear whether he opposes the widely abused 'medical' marijuana programs now legal in some states."

Gupta's documentary was part of a triumphant week for everyone who believes marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes, the Jordans said.

Others lining up in support of medicinal marijuana include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said he would support medical marijuana, albeit with some strict rules prior to it being dispensed.

In Florida, the pro-medical marijuana group People United for Medical Marijuana cleared its first major hurdle to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot, according to the Miami Herald. The group collected enough voter signatures to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of the initiative's language.

Since July, People United for Medical Marijuana has collected at least 110,000 signatures -- in excess of the 68,314 needed to start the review, the group's treasurer and director, Ben Pollara, told the Miami Herald.

Pollara said PUFMM will temporarily suspend its paid petition-gathering drive until the court rules on the constitutionality of the proposal, which can't be misleading or cover multiple subjects.

The Jordans say they are excited about how many people signed on in support, even though the group spearheaded by lawyer John Morgan, founder of Morgan & Morgan of Orlando, has some different viewpoints from the Jordans.

"Some things in their proposal, like that you won't be able to grow your own marijuana, we don't agree with," Robert Jordan said. "But we are excited by where they are at. In talking with pro medical marijuana people, we all agree never before has there been this much interest."

Polara said PUFMM plans to ask the court for an expedited review so the group can restart its petition drive sooner. It must collect 683,149 verified voter signatures by Feb. 1 to place the measure on the 2014 November ballot.

The Jordans say even if legalized medical marijuana is on the 2014 November ballot and approved by voters, it will still be at least two more years before cannabis is legally dispensed in Florida.

"The big misconception is that if it is on the 2014 ballot people will be helped quickly," Robert Jordan said. "It will still be 2016 before anything will be happening. That's why we wish the Florida Legislature had the will to pass something in 2013. But we will say they got to 100,000 signatures a lot faster than we did. Money talks."

PUFMM could have as many as 140,000 signatures already by week's end when the outstanding petitions gathered by volunteers and the signature-gathering firm National Voter Outreach should be in.

To win a state constitutional referendum, it takes 60 percent voter approval -- a threshold polls indicate PUFMM could exceed by 10 percentage points.

If approved, Florida would be the 21st state to decriminalize marijuana.

Robert and Cathy Jordan spend a few hours every Saturday at the Palma Sola Causeway, collecting signatures for their pro medical marijuana cause. This past Saturday was different, they said.

"People were saying, 'Yeah, I saw it on TV," Robert Jordan said. "Another guy saw a clip on Bay News 9. More and more people are talking about this."

"Weed," the CNN special, has now lent more credibility to Cathy Jordan's story, they said.

They praise Gupta.

"He showed courage and I don't use that word, courage, lightly being a veteran," Robert Jordan said. "It could fly back in his face, but he took a stance. This is the first time that a person with the national microphone has stood up and said there is nothing to be afraid of with marijuana."

The Jordans make it clear they -- like Gupta -- do not support cannabis use by those under 25, the time when scientists believe the brain is fully formed.

"We are not saying it is for everyone and definitely saying it is not for kids," Robert Jordan said. "We believe that at adulthood, when the brain has fully formed, you can go ahead and use it for medical purposes if you need it."

The Jordans believe cannabis use has drastically slowed the deterioration of Cathy Jordan's brain by ALS.

"Most people die in four or five years from what Cathy has," Robert Jordan said. "She has lived 27 years with it. We believe there is no question that it's the cannabis that has made the difference."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411.

Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo also contributed to this report.

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