TALLAHASSEE -- For the fourth year, Democratic legislators and advocates for medical marijuana are pushing for a measure to legalize the drug. What makes all of them more hopeful about success this session is the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative amendment, which will be on the ballot Nov. 4.
"We've seen a seismic shift in how the Legislature is beginning to look at these issues," said state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, at a press conference Monday to announce his 157-page bill, the "Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act" (Senate Bill 962), with House sponsor state Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando.
"This bill puts patients before politics," said Robert Jordan of Parrish, whose wife, Cathy, has been helped by medical marijuana for decades while living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Saunders named his bill for Cathy
With Robert, a Vietnam vet, Cathy has been fighting to legalize marijuana from her wheelchair for more than two decades. She was by his side at Monday's press conference.
Last year, law enforcement seized marijuana plants from the Jordans' house in Parrish but charges were dropped.
Clemens pointed to efforts by state Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, to decriminalize the strain of non-psychoactive marijuana known as "Charlotte's Web" to help children with seizures, as a sign of bipartisan progress.
The medical marijuana measure proposed by Clemens and Saunders would be broader than the Charlotte's Web effort instead focusing on 25 specific "qualifying medical conditions" and treatments, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Clemens called it a "tightly regulated framework of oversight" providing guidelines for licensing and permitting for dispensaries and medical cannabis farms, requiring registration identification cards, protections for doctors and protections to fight abuse, among other provisions.
At least 60 percent of voters have to approve the amendment for Florida to become the first Southern state to legalize use of marijuana for health-related reasons.
Patients in 20 states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws to allow access to medical marijuana.
At least one poll showed support at 82 percent with the recent Public Policy Polling survey putting voter backing at 65 percent
.A divided Florida Supreme Court decided Jan. 27 in a 4-3 vote that the ballot language for the proposed constitutional amendment meets all legal requirements.
But any legislation has to overcome opposition from state leadership. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, state House Speaker Will Weatherford, state Senate President Don Gaetz and Gov. Rick Scott oppose the amendment.
The ballot measure was championed by United for Care, an advocacy group headed by Orlando attorney John Morgan, who employs Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Charlie Crist.
State Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said medical marijuana has bipartisan support.
Families said "patients can't wait" for the amendment to take effect and for rules to be debated, so are pushing for legislation to pass this session.
Carl and January Petroff of Satellite Beach told reporters Monday medical marijuana helped their 18-year-old daughter, Sheridan, get some relief from debilitating and excruciating pain after years of using "dangerous" legal painkillers, which "turned her into a zombie."
Ryan Roman was 22 when diagnosed with spinal cancer, which later spread to the brain. In 2010, he was "sent home to die," Clemens said.
But Roman, now 30, began using a concentrated oil form of medical marijuana, which he credits with helping him survive along with traditional options. He now is married and the father of a 2 ½-year-old daughter.
"We're not criminals," Roman said, "We're here to gain a little bit of comfort."