'Vote No on 2' Group Is Actually Helping the Amendment Work

In the process of doing what they believe is right, Microsoft unwittingly has given gifts to hackers and virus creators for years.

Anyone who has used a Windows operating system for the last 20 years is used to seeing an endless series of "Security Updates" constantly being downloaded and installed, even after Microsoft has already moved to the next-generation operating system. Each update is specifically written to address a security flaw or loophole in the system that hackers could attack.

Fortunately for the hackers, that gives them the heads-up on all the latest known flaws, even ones they didn't know existed. However, only about 65 percent of Windows users actually use automatic updates or request regular updates, in part because there are millions of users around the world that have "non-updatable" copies of the software. So the hackers and virus creators take the vulnerability information from Microsoft and run with it, and systems are compromised, contact lists are unknowingly used and third-party applications and programs are attacked. The hackers don't even thank them.

I recently noticed a similar situation that has occurred, courtesy of the "Say No to No. 2" coalition that is trying to get the constitutional amendment regarding medical marijuana to fail during the upcoming November ballot.

This week, they listed the "four major loopholes" in the ballot initiative's language in a press release entitled "The Devil is in the Details."

The title alone depicts their first mistake. The Florida Legislature has worked very hard to make certain the issue section of the ballot does not get too long. A long-winded issue that takes too long to read or understand will most likely be skipped by voters, especially if the voting lines have been long or they are not fully familiar with or enthusiastic about the issue. So ballot initiative writers know that inclusion of all the details in the ballot language would not be a winning strategy. So the framework is drawn and it is up to our Florida Legislature to fill in the details to make the amendment fully achieve the will of the people in the spirit in which the initiative was created. That's their job. They even have the advantage of looking at the 22 states that have already legalized MMJ to look for flaws and best practices.

HB859/SB962, called "Medical Use of Cannabis" and also the "Cathy Jordan Act," was written in the spirit of the constitutional amendment and confronts the details, but it is also 170 pages long. Stick that in your ballot box.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Palm Beach, sponsor of SB962, told me in a recent meeting "They're assuming that we can't do our job." But, if the Legislature writes the rules and regulation as tightly as they did on the "Charlotte's Web" bill, they will definitely prove VNO2 wrong.

Here are the four "loopholes" as described by the coalition.

(1) The Pill Mill Loophole

The amendment defines "Medical Marijuana Treatment Center," but VNO2 claims this loophole places no restrictions on the location of "seedy" pot shops. Like "pill mills," they warn Floridians to look for "pot docs" to spring up next to restaurants, schools, churches and supermarkets. (Several states have already addressed the situation appropriately.)

(2) The Drug Dealer Loophole

Amendment 2 says "personal caregiver" means an individual at least 21 years old. However, VNO2 claims "Amendment 2 allows so-called 'caregivers' to dispense medical pot. Caregivers do not need medical training. They can be felons -- even drug dealers. It will be easier to get a caregiver's license than a drivers' license." (Considering that the protocols to get that license haven't been written, that is a logical leap into an abyss.)

(3) Pot-for-Anyone-Who-Wants-It Loophole

Amendment 2 does not require a doctor's prescription, since a prescription would violate federal law (cannabis is still considered an herb and not a medication), but will require "physician certification." This refers to "a written document signed by a physician stating that in the physician's professional opinion, the patient suffers from a debilitating medical condition or other conditions for which the physician believes medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh any potential health risks for the patient."

VNO2 claims Amendment 2 authors have defined "debilitating medical condition" as nearly "any condition -- everything from back pain to trouble sleeping" and will result in situations where anyone who wants pot will get it. (That is an interesting but unqualified statement, since that language is not in the amendment.)

(4) Teenager Loophole

Amendment 2 states that a "qualifying patient" means a person diagnosed to have a debilitating medical condition, who has a physician certification and a valid qualifying patient identification card.
VNO2 argues that there are no age restrictions on pot smoking, so teens and children will be able to purchase pot legally without parental consent. (I got a chuckle out of this one. Apparently, VNO2 believes that the parents of teenage patients with such afflictions as cancer, epilepsy, Crohn's disease, and HIV/AIDS have no knowledge of their child's health, and leave their teenager's health care decision entirely in the hands of the child.)

Looking at the actual ballot language, many of the concerns of VNO2 are already addressed in section "c" (limitations) in the ballot language, such as "Nothing in this section shall affect laws relating to non-medical use, possession, production or sale of marijuana."

Section "e" (legislation) states, "Nothing in this section shall limit the legislature from enacting laws consistent with this provision." So the Legislature has the ability to make this amendment work for the benefit of those who truly need it.

Once you get past the vivid imagination and fairy-tale nature of these "loopholes," each loophole has a nugget of information that can lead our Legislature to draft the rules and regulations for the Department of Health to follow (as ascribed in section "(d)Duties of the Department") to avoid the apocalyptic scenarios of VNO2.

So, on behalf of all those who want to see the amendment pass, all those who truly need MMJ to ease their suffering, and all those who love them, I would like to thank VNO2 for "pulling a Microsoft" and giving our Legislature the tools that will make Amendment 2 a reality and a model for the rest of the country.

We truly thank you.

Gary Stein, MPH, a native Detroiter, worked for the Centers for Disease Control, landed in the Tampa Bay area to work for the State Tobacco program and is now a health advocate and activist and blogger for the Huffington Post. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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