Voters’ questions about the medical marijuana constitutional amendment on Florida’s November ballot abound. Answers remain elusive.
The summary on the ballot that the electorate will see only provides a broad overview of the complete amendment language. Even in its entirety, the proposal lacks the specifics that inquiring minds want to know.
That became readily apparent at last week’s Bradenton Herald-State College of Florida’s “Community Conversation” when our panelists could not speculate on the particulars should the amendment pass.
Still, the standing-room-only crowd left better informed, as many expressed upon the conclusion of the 90-minute discussion. That hunger for information became apparent when applause erupted after many panelists’ remarks — widespread clapping for both sides of the issue.
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Our panel featured:
Jessica Spencer, EdD, the statewide coalition director for the Vote No on 2! campaign.
Bob and Cathy Jordan of Parrish, who attribute her longtime survival from Lou Gehrig’s disease to cannabis. The Jordans generated applause on many occasions for their passionate defense of the medicinal qualities of cannabis.
Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells, who holds special training in drug recognition and interdiction techniques.
Greg Gerdeman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg who has studied the consequences of cannabis on the brain for more than 16 years.
Somewhat surprisingly, all of the panelists agreed that marijuana has medicinal value, but the disagreement focused on the amendment text.
Some voter concerns are addressed directly in that language. For example, the text states that the amendment does not allow the operation of a motor vehicle, boat or aircraft while under the influence of marijuana.
Plus, the language rules out any requirement that patients receive any accommodation for on-site medical use of cannabis “in any place of education or employment, or of smoking medical marijuana in any public place.”
And the proposal does not require health insurance providers or any government agency or authority to reimburse any person for medical marijuana expenses.
The language directs the Florida Department of Health to issue “reasonable regulations” for the implementation and regulation of the amendment to “ensure the availability and safe use of medical marijuana by qualifying patients.”
Who would qualify? That’s a debatable point. The text defines this as “a person diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition,” specifically citing HIV, AIDS, ALS and several others. But then it allows “other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”
Spencer argues such vague language creates loopholes and leaves the door open for abuse. Would mere headaches qualify? Gerdeman pointed out that migraines are indeed debilitating, but how would a physician differentiate between the two? Based on patient assertions?
Other voter questions cannot be addressed until DOH writes regulations. But in a preliminary analysis of the amendment directive, the agency did note that qualifying patients under the age of 18 must have parent or legal guardian permission to obtain an identification card. Spencer disputed this, saying the text does not specify an age restriction and this limitation would be subject to litigation as a violation of the amendment.
People United for Medical Marijuana, the initiative’s sponsoring organization, rebuts that point. Under the amendment, a doctor’s recommendation is required for the purchase medical marijuana.
Except for a few circumstances, Florida law bars physicians from providing medical treatment to minors without parental or guardian consent.
The panel agreed that more research on medical marijuana is needed, but the federal government continues to block most efforts. Before becoming regulated as a drug in every state by the mid-1930s, the value of marijuana as medicine had been widely studied and prescribed, but cannabis became listed as a Schedule I drug by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 — the same classification as heroin.
As Gerdeman explained, marijuana is safer than aspirin, which kills hundreds of Americans annually, and marijuana has been proven effective for debilitating conditions.
The federal government should reclassify cannabis to a lower schedule, allow a variety of research projects and put an end to the debate one way or another. Only knowledge will settle this issue.
We respect the differences of opinion on medical marijuana. As all of the panelists remarked at the conclusion of the forum, voters should become well-informed before marking their ballots. We agree.
A note of thanks: We appreciate the viewpoints and passion our panelists brought to the conversation on medical marijuana and Amendment 2, and our thanks to State College of Florida and President Carol Probstfeld for co-sponsoring this event.