Come November, Florida voters would do well to be schooled on the facts about a constitutional amendment that would permit doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients with debilitating diseases. The discourse surrounding the issue can be confusing, clouded by strong emotions on both sides.
Everyone speaking about this brings a passion that bears considerable weight. Those who found relief from relentless suffering, those who fear the spread of drug abuse, those who advocate pot's medicinal value, those who cite societal harm -- all bring valid points to the discussion. Voters should be well informed on the pros and cons of Amendment 2.
To that end, the Bradenton Herald and State College of Florida, in partnership with Manatee Educational Television, hope to inform the electorate on Wednesday evening with a Community Conversation that delves into the major points of contention about medical cannabis.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled in January that the amendment language is not misleading, despite opponents' contentions. The proposal requires physicians to examine patients and know their medical histories before prescribing marijuana. The patient must secure an identification card from the state health department in order to purchase cannabis from a regulated dispensary.
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Only people with debilitating conditions -- cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and such -- would qualify. Amendment opponents say the language would allow a pot prescription for anorexia, migraines and back pain -- conditions that stretch the definition of "debilitating."
This argument against the amendment's passage suggests the doctor's discretion on this point would lead to abuse, even a return to Florida's ignominious reputation as a "pill mill" state where unscrupulous physicians and pain management clinics would write scripts for deadly opiate painkillers such as Oxycodone and other narcotics.
Amendment foes also suggest marijuana will be marketed to youngsters since there is no age limit in the ballot measure. And parental consent is missing, too, they note.
Are those legitimate fears or political points? Voters must decide that.
Amendment critics also claim the lack of clinical research on the medicinal value of marijuana should be cause to reject legalization. Yet before the federal government outlawed pot, science showed cannabis-based medicine effective for pain.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent and a longtime opponent of medical marijuana, examined hundreds of articles from 1840 to 1930 -- during a time when marijuana was embraced by the medical community as a legitimate prescription. He reversed his position in a 2013 documentary called "Weed" and advocated cannabis as a proper prescription for pain.
Some two dozen states now allow medical marijuana. Two, Colorado and Washington, permit recreational pot. Florida Amendment 2 critics claim passage would lead to future recreational legalization. That's another factor for voters to consider.
Wednesday's public forum, on SCF's Bradenton campus, will feature statewide leaders from both sides of the issue, law enforcement and a medical cannabis researcher. Our panel will features:
Jessica Spencer, on leave from her post as project director for the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition, is the statewide coalition director for the Vote No on 2! campaign.
Bob and Cathy Jordan of Parrish attribute her longtime survival from Lou Gehrig's disease to cannabis. The Jordans have been lobbying for changes in Florida for 16 years.
Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells has served some three decades in law enforcement. He holds special training in drug recognition and interdiction techniques.
Greg Gerdeman, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College in Saint Petersburg. He teaches courses in cell biology, human physiology, receptor pharmacology and neuroscience. He has studied the consequences of cannabis on the brain for more than 16 years.
The forum will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. at SCF's Howard Studio Theater, located on the college's Bradenton campus in Building 11 West, off 60th Avenue West between 26th and 34th streets, accessed from Parking Lot I. Details can be found at www.scf.edu/maps.
While public opinion polls shows Floridians in favor of medical marijuana, voters need to decide this. We hope those are informed decisions. Please join us Wednesday.