Florida's 2014 Medical Marijuana Showdown: Get Your Popcorn Ready

If this isn't a clear sign that medical marijuana needs to come to Florida -- for the thousands of others like Cathy who aren't as fortunate in the legal system -- then who knows what is.
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If there were a centralized hub for opposition to sensible marijuana policy, excluding the DEA's glass-enclosed headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, it would probably have to be the state of Florida. Beginning in St. Petersburg in 1976, when ultraprohibitionists Mel and Betty Sembler founded the controversial drug-rehab program STRAIGHT, Inc., and continuing on today with the legacy organizations Drug Free America Foundation and Save Our Society From Drugs (both headed by Sembler henchwoman Calvina Fay), it is clear that the Sunshine State has been a haven for organizations committed to derailing any and all efforts to regulate marijuana. Until now, these groups have enjoyed safe harbor in their own backyards and remained isolated from the public's changing perception towards pot. However, the Orlando-based United for Care Campaign is starting to challenge these groups, with their quest to capture the 683,149 signatures needed by February 1 to add a medical cannabis proposal to Florida's next general election ballot.

United for Care's goal is to add an amendment to the state's constitution that would grant physicians the option of recommending marijuana to qualified patients, and according to Ben Pollara, the organization's treasurer, "Polls consistently show that a majority of Floridians approve of medical marijuana, and with petition gatherers and volunteers now working tirelessly across the state, we're optimistic that voters will get the chance to take up the issue in 2014."

Trial attorney John Morgan is the primary face and financial backer behind the United for Care Campaign, and for him, it's all about getting patients the relief they need and deserve.

Marijuana greatly enhanced my father's life while battling cancer, and it's time for Florida residents in similar situations to be afforded safe access to this medication. The South is literally stuck in the dark ages compared to the rest of country when it comes to advancing common sense marijuana policy, and considering that 80 percent of Americans are now in favor of its medicinal application, this is an ideal opportunity for Florida to be a leader in the region on this issue.

But there remains much opposition to reforming marijuana legislation in Florida. And considering that the state's prohibition camps have already been steadily lobbying against marijuana proposals in other parts of the country, there's no telling what scare tactics they'll attempt to utilize on their home turf. Morgan believes that groups like DFAF and SOS could potentially be misleading the public in an attempt to save face. "Science supporting medical marijuana is real and it is here," Morgan says.

Be it cancer, glaucoma, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, PTSD or a multitude of other illnesses, there's no doubt that marijuana is a beneficial alternative medicine. This isn't just about people who are on their death beds as Calvina Fay and company would like residents to believe, and I can't comprehend why anyone in Florida would be opposed to bringing such a measure to this state.

As a former law enforcement official who resigned due to the array of societal ills caused by drug prohibition, I believe the best approach is to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol. Whether it's the rising death toll in Latin America, the racial disparities in marijuana arrests between whites and non-whites here in the United States, or the costly expenditures of incarcerating non-violent marijuana offenders, the time has come to end marijuana prohibition once and for all. Yet it is clear that states (rather than the federal government) are the ones taking the lead toward accomplishing this goal, and for the most part they've opted to take an incremental approach in developing their marijuana policies. The establishment of medical marijuana in Florida is without a doubt a historic step in the right direction.

Parrish resident Cathy Jordan certainly thinks so. As a sufferer of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, she has battled her illness for over 30 years, and cannabis is now contributing to her daily survival. Jordan's home was raided last February (just hours after her story was mentioned in a Miami Herald article), and Manatee County deputies seized 23 marijuana plants that were being grown by her husband to treat her ALS. After Jordan's medical circumstances were revealed to the Florida government, the Attorney General's office dropped the charges against her. If this isn't a clear sign that medical marijuana needs to come to Florida -- for the thousands of others like Cathy who aren't as fortunate in the legal system -- then who knows what is.

As United for Care continues working from now until February collecting the necessary signatures, Floridians should ask themselves whether to heed the advice of the 20 other states that have already legalized medical marijuana (and the additional ones that are in the process of doing so), or whether to remain in the dark ages by continuing to listen to the played-out message from the marijuana-phobes. That message has failed for over 40 years now, and considering a growing majority of Americans now favor marijuana reform, there is really only one logical side of the fence to be on. Though there is much work to be done for United for Care in the months ahead, it is clear that the safety net that once surrounded Florida's prohibition groups has now come to an end.

Please visit unitedforcare.org to see how you can help. Florida registered voters can click here to sign, print and mail a petition to United for Care, and donors can click here to learn how to contribute.

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