Manatee's Tiger Bay Club speakers clash on medical marijuana issue

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 7, 2014 

A Florida constitutional amendment calling for medical marijuana will be decided by Florida voters in November. MATTHEW STAVER / BLOOMBERG

BRADENTON -- A doctor opposed the possibility of legal medical marijuana, saying it would be sold to anyone at centers reminiscent of pill mills, while a user of the substance with a disabling condition said she would have died without it.

That was the gist of the discussion Thursday at the Tiger Bay Club lunch program titled, "Medical Marijuana: Florida's Future or Just a Pipe Dream?"

The nonpartisan club's monthly meeting at Bradenton's Pier 22 restaurant featured two speakers on each side of the question about whether Florida voters should approve a medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Advocating legalization of medical marijuana was Cathy Jordan, diagnosed in 1986 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain.

"I think it's a medical necessity," she told the crowd. She said she would have died without marijuana cigarettes supplied by her fellow speaker, Donnie Clark, both members of the Florida Cannabis Action Network.

Clark grew and smoked marijuana for many years, and was arrested twice, he said. He served 12 1/2 years in prison before President Bill Clinton commuted his life sentence in 2001.

"I've seen it cure cancer," Clark said.

Dr. Fabian Ramos advocated a no vote on the ballot amendment.

"I foresee our teenagers, our youth, going confidentially, not to doctors, but to marijuana centers to get a paper certifying the use of marijuana" without a proven medical condition, Ramos said.

"You do not need to have a diagnosed or proven disease," he said.

Jessica Spencer, project director of the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition, also opposed legalization.

About one out of every six adolescents who tries marijuana becomes addicted, and states with legal marijuana show higher youth use rates, Spencer said.

"It is our job to protect our kids," she said.

The proposed constitutional amendment would need the approval of 60 percent of voters to pass.

It names nine specific medical conditions: cancer, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus infection, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, according to a Miami Herald report.

Physicians could recommend marijuana for other ailments if, after conducting an examination, they determine cannabis would help patients more than it would hurt them, the report said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter@sarawrites.

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