BRADENTON -- The two speakers debating the pros and cons of medical marijuana Monday for the League of Women Voters of Manatee County had done this many times before.
"This is not my first rodeo with Jessica," said Ben Pollara of United for Care about Jessica Spencer of Vote No on 2. "We're like old sparring partners at this point."
They knew each other's arguments by heart. Before Spencer even stood up, Pollara, speaking in favor of Amendment 2, predicted each loophole she would point to in the amendment language and tried to refute it for the audience of about 70 people.
"A lot of these folks have tried everything and the drugs that their doctors have given them either don't give them relief or they bring them relief but also bring side effects that are just as bad as the conditions that they're actually suffering from," Pollara said. "And Amendment 2 would basically decriminalize the doctor-patient relationship."
"We're voting on what was actually written, and please read the language, because we can't change it, it is what it is on Nov. 4," Spencer countered. "We're not talking about the truly sick
and injured people when it comes down to it."
The two debated four main issues under scrutiny regarding medical marijuana in Florida:
Does the amendment mean anyone will have access to pot?
Will minors will have access to pot without parental consent?
Can anyone 21 and older be a caregiver and administer medical marijuana?
Will Amendment 2 lead to another pill mill-type situation in the state?
'Anyone will have access to pot'
Spencer said amendment language could mean medical marijuana could be prescribed for any ailment, small or large. She said medical marijuana proponents focused on helping those with debilitating diseases in the beginning, but that changed.
"Unfortunately, we're finding that that's not the case, because when Jon Mills was in front of the Supreme Court and arguing for this position, he was saying this was actually going to be for your throat pain, your trouble sleeping and your trouble eating," Spencer said. "So I'm really not sure where the disconnect came from."
Pollara said the amendment language, which states it "allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician," is self-explanatory, and debilitating diseases are easily definable.
'Minors will have access to pot'
Spencer said of 23 states, plus the District of Columbia, which have legalized medical marijuana, Florida would be the first not to place an age restriction in the law.
"It has nothing about it," Spencer said. "Your kids and your grandkids will be able to get this. It's in the language."
Pollara said Spencer's claim is inaccurate because, even though the amendment does not mention age, minors can't get medical treatment in Florida without parental consent except in narrow circumstances.
"A doctor who treats a minor without their parent or guardian consenting to that treatment is leaving themselves open to huge lawsuits, to losing their license, to any number of things," Pollara said.
'Anyone can be a caregiver'
Spencer said the only qualification someone needs to be a caregiver is to be 21 or older. She said she thinks of a caregiver as a spouse, a nurse, a child or some other loved one who has been to your doctor's appointments, but she said Amendment 2 does not define a caregiver the same way.
Pollara said specifics on a caregiver will be defined by the Florida Department of Health, and he didn't agree with the assumption anyone can be a caregiver.
"That presupposes that the state will irresponsibly implement Amendment 2," Pollara said. "Which I don't believe it will."
'This will be the next pill mill issue for Florida'
Spencer said she doesn't think legitimate physicians in Florida will abuse medical marijuana prescriptions should the amendment pass, but she believes "pot docs" will pop up.
Pot docs will operate same way pill mills did, she said, where doctors prescribed high-strength pain medication for those who didn't need it.
Pollara said people will have to jump through enough hoops under the language of the amendment that it won't be an issue.
"You have to go to the doctor. You have to be diagnosed with the debilitating disease or medical condition. You have to get that diagnosis in writing. You have to send that written diagnosis to the Department of Health and wait for the department to send you an identification card in order to become a medical marijuana patient," Pollara said. "You can't just walk into your doctor's office, walk out and buy marijuana."