Supporters of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes in Florida are sure 2014 will be the year their wish becomes reality. “Florida is ready to explode,” said Jodi James, executive director of the Florida Cannabis Action Network. “We firmly believe that Florida patients will have legal access to cannabis by November 2014.”
Strong words in a state where a proposed medical marijuana bill died in committee early in the 2013 legislative session. Sponsor Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said last week he will bring back the measure for another go-round in 2014. Clemens said he also could propose a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana.
But legislators could be pre-empted by the power of the people if the drive to collect more than 683,000 voter signatures to put the issue on the ballot takes off. That drive appeared to be sputtering because of a lack of resources until John Morgan, head of the Morgan and Morgan law firm, recently joined the effort in favor of medical pot.
Morgan promised to commit his own funds and raise money from other donors to pay for the signature-gathering campaign, estimated to cost more than $3 million, according to published reports. Backers believe Morgan’s political and financial clout could fuel their cause to victory.
“In Florida, John Morgan is the biggest friend the issue ever had,” said Jack Tanner of Fort Myers. He is a member of the Lee Liberty Caucus, a group first organized to back Ron Paul for president in 2008. “John Morgan knows how to do things, and he has the money to back it up.”
Morgan joined and is now chairman of the political committee of People United for Medical Marijuana, which was founded as a grass-roots organization four years ago by Orlando resident Kim Russell. Russell said in an interview Ben Pollara, a lobbyist and fundraiser for the President Obama re-election campaign, brought together her and Morgan. According to published reports, Morgan has said marijuana helped ease his father’s suffering as he was dying of cancer. Pollara is now treasurer of the group.
Clemens believes if the issue goes to a ballot, it will pass. “That to me is a done deal. As far as I’m concerned, the question becomes whether the Legislature wants to be pre-emptive,” or wait until people approve it themselves, he said.
Not everyone is pleased about the possibility.
“The whole issue of marijuana as medicine I’m not sure is a legitimate argument,” said Deborah Comella, executive director of the Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida. “Do I think we need to have marijuana legalized for some people to get better? No.”
First, what is needed is to see what compounds are in smoked marijuana that makes it effective “and we need to get the FDA involved and get it produced in a safe way,” Comella said. “Find out what works and what makes it a safe substance so we can prescribe it. “
Anthony Cincotti, 41, of Cape Coral, said he used medical marijuana safely and effectively after he was injured on the job in 2008 as a corrections officer in Nevada. Cincotti said he was on 14 medications, including anti-spasmatics, muscle relaxants, and 20 mg of oxycodone every four hours, after he suffered a tear in his spinal cord. Some of the medications were taken to offset the side effects of other medications, he said.
Then a doctor suggested he try medical marijuana and gave him a prescription. Before he took it, he did online research to look at the pros and cons, including the fact it was supposed to be a “gateway” drug, Cincotti said.
“If anything, it was a gateway away from opiate medications for me,” he said Thursday. Within a month, he had better mobility and was able to drop 10 of 14 medications, Cincotti said. “It dramatically increased my quality of life.”
When he moved to Florida, the relief he got from medical marijuana ended, he said. Taking Tylenol and ibuprofen along with muscle relaxants doesn’t cut it, but he believes marijuana will be legalized for medical use in Florida soon.
“It’s literally a matter of time,” he said.
Support for legalizing medical marijuana in Florida has grown to 70 percent, according to a survey conducted early this year by the Hamilton Campaigns consulting group for People United for Medical Marijuana.
The number reflects rising support across the country, said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group which works “to end marijuana prohibition and the criminalization of seriously ill people who use it for medical purposes,” he said. The project believes marijuana should be regulated and taxed, similar to alcohol.
The Pew Research Center in Washington announced in April that for the first time, its polls show a majority of Americans (52 percent) support making marijuana legal.
There are 18 states along with the District of Columbia that have passed legalization laws, Tvert said.
There are 11 states with pending legislation to legalize medical marijuana, according to the nonprofit procon.org. They are: Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and New York.
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