A psychiatrist who will help run a federally approved study of the use of medical marijuana to treat veterans has urged Floridians to pass Amendment 2 in November.
Organizers of the amendment, United for Care, held a press conference in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday with Dr. Suzanne Sisley and two veterans who have used medical marijuana. The press conference was held at a Westin hotel, the site of a Viridian Cannabis conference about investing in the marijuana industry.
“You have an opportunity in this state to embrace common sense in November,” Sisley said. “You have a chance to create a sanctuary where patients can finally get safe, legal access to exquisitely lab-tested cannabis. That would be a huge gift to the citizens of Florida and an important gift to the veterans of this state who desperately deserve that access.”
A similar medical marijuana constitutional amendment drew support of 58 percent of Florida voters in 2014, two points shy of passage. Advocates hope that a larger Democratic turnout in a presidential year will make the difference this time — and that includes in left-leaning Broward where 63.5 percent of voters favored the amendment in 2014.
United for Care also altered the language of the amendment to address some concerns about the previous version. The new amendment requires parental consent and doctor certification for minors and more clearly defines the medical conditions it covers, which include cancer, HIV/AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder and other debilitating conditions of the same class with a doctor’s recommendation.
The Vote No on 2 campaign, funded by the Drug Free Florida Committee, is the lead opponent. The campaign pointed to a study by Yale University that found that marijuana worsens PTSD symptoms.
Scott Calhoun, a former U.S. Army specialist and Gulf War veteran, shared his experience with medical marijuana on Wednesday. Calhoun, who has PTSD and other medical problems, said the VA once prescribed him 75 different pills in one year. Ultimately, that was pared down to 15 pills.
“I went to Amsterdam and I took all 15 pills with me, all my prescriptions. I spent 10 days there, and I came back with zero pills. I’m on zero pills right now…” he said.
In 2014, the federal government approved a study of medical marijuana for veterans with PTSD. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies expects to start the study later this year, once it receives the marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Sisley is the principal investigator on the Phoenix site for the study and will treat half of the 76 patients. The other part of the study is at Johns Hopkins University. The study, which will take about two years, will test a few different strains of marijuana to determine whether any of them help veterans.
“We lose 22 veterans each day to suicide,” Sisley said. “That is a public-health crisis.”
That statistic stems from a study that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released in 2013. It comes with some caveats, including that it is based on 21 states and that there is some uncertainty in veteran identifiers on death certificates, PolitiFact found.
Sisley was fired from her job as a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry by the University of Arizona in 2014. She said at the time she was fired as a result of her medical marijuana research that put her at odds with legislative Republicans who fund the university. At the time, the university denied her characterization but provided no explanation, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The marijuana amendment is a hot issue that could spill into some other races on the ballot in Florida.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Weston, was a rare vocal Democrat who opposed the Florida constitutional amendment in 2014. This time, she faces her first Democratic primary challenger for re-election — Tim Canova — and has said she will “evaluate” the amendment.
In May, the House and Senate voted in favor of an amendment to allow military veterans access to state medical marijuana programs. Wasserman Schultz voted in favor of the amendment despite opposing a similar version in the past. Canova supports medical marijuana.
Wealthy Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who has bankrolled the Florida amendment, told the Miami Herald in May that he might create a PAC to attack Wasserman Schultz.
Morgan told the Miami Herald this week he wants to see the results of a poll in the race before he decides whether to invest. No public polls have been released so far.
“I am waiting to see a poll I believe in,” Morgan said. “If I see a chance, yes.”