BRADENTON -- Florida's proposed Amendment 2, which would legalize medical marijuana, was discussed at length Wednesday evening at "A Community Conversation."
Panelists at the State College of Florida Bradenton campus, 5840 26th St. W., included Jessica Spencer, statewide coalition director for the Vote No on 2! campaign; Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells; medical marijuana researcher Greg Gerdeman; and Bob and Cathy Jordan of Parrish, longtime activists for medical cannabis.
Moderated by Bradenton Herald Editorial Page Editor Chris Wille and SCF President Carol Probstfeld, the discussion covered different aspects of medical marijuana. Unlike Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, who is staunchly opposed to medical marijuana, Wells stressed he's not.
"I have a brother-in-law today that is struggling with a very serious illness and, as his illness progresses, this may be something that he could benefit from down the road," Wells said. However, Wells said he is opposed to the amendment.
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"I think that the wording in the amendment is too broad," he said. "I believe there's still too many unanswered questions on the amendment that really don't give voters a true understanding of what they're voting on in November."
Spencer, who is against the proposed amendment, was asked to compare it with the recently signed Senate Bill 1030, which legalizes use of noneuphoric marijuana known as Charlotte's Web to treat conditions such as cancer and epilepsy.
"The main difference for me, for what's on the amendment, is that this is smoked. There's actually no regulations or no specificities -- is it an oil? Is it smoked? Is it edible, etc?" Spencer said, adding Charlotte's Web is being tested through the University of Florida.
For Spencer, how Charlotte's Web is being handled gives legislators and citizens the opportunity to voice their opinions on what works and what doesn't.
"When we have a constitutional amendment, we can't do that," she said. "We can't come back later and change or fix the loopholes that are in there now."
Gerdeman, an assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College in Saint Petersburg, has studied cannabis for years. She said medical marijuana is not a "magic remedy."
"But I think patients could benefit a great deal from more than what is accessible in Florida," he said, "and I think that's an understatement."
Cathy Jordan was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in 1986. Doctors told her she only had five years to live. Asked what impact cannabis has had on her condition, Jordan said simply: "I'm alive."
After the program ended, 71-year-old Gary Hirschberg of Bradenton said it was informative. He also said he thinks a lot of good will come should the amendment pass.
"I think people have a right to treat themselves with whatever means they can get to take care of their needs," he said.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.