Open Letter to Florida Voters About Medical Marijuana and Amendment 2

Florida voters who are still deciding on how to complete their absentee ballots or will be going to the polls in person on Election Day have an important vote to cast in the upcoming election.

They will be asked to vote on Amendment 2 that will make marijuana medically available in Florida and the state becoming the first southern state to join the 23 other states that have legalized medical use of this ancient, healing herb.

The latest poll from Gravis Marketing reports that Amendment 2 is in trouble. According to the pollsters, 50 percent of Florida voters stated they would vote yes on the amendment while 42 percent stated they would vote no.

The poll's recap reads: "With only eight days remaining until the election, a powerful eight percent of undecided voters might hold the key to whether or not this ballot initiative passes or fails to receive the mandatory 60 percent support needed to make a change to the State of Florida's constitution."

Undecided voters who have waited this long to make up their minds would be wise to see the recent editorial from Florida Today endorsing a Yes Vote on Amendment 2 and a qualified but positive endorsement from the Miami Herald.

Up to now, discussion of Amendment 2 has resulted in arguments focusing on language of the amendment, views of law enforcement and medical professionals, as well opinions of those who retain a drug war perspective on "the evil weed" versus those who emphasize the need to provide medicine to those who can benefit from medical cannabis.

The law enforcement opponents, primarily represented by the Florida Sheriffs' Association, are offering one-sided scare tactics to garner "no" votes on Amendment 2. They are focusing on perceived loopholes to emphasize their claim that the Amendment is poorly written.

These comments do not acknowledge the well-substantiated positions of others in the law enforcement community such as the members of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) whose members include Norm Stamper, former Police Chief of Seattle, Washington and the late Joe McNamara, PhD, former Police Chief of San Jose, California and Scholar in Residence at Stanford's Hoover Institute.

Those opposing Amendment 2 are joined by treatment professionals who continue to view marijuana use -- either for medicinal purposes or recreationally -- as an "addiction" problem. Their jobs are linked to law enforcement through criminalization of marijuana and sentencing practices that force those who are caught using marijuana into treatment programs.

They are supported by groups like the Drug Free America Foundation located in St. Petersburg and funded by the wealthy and powerful philanthropist Mel Sembler. The money for the No on 2 campaign is coming from Adelson with the direction coming from former Reagan drug czar Carlton Turner.

On the medical front opposition comes from the Florida Medical Association despite its support for SB 1030 also known as the "Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 passed in June of this year.

That legislation legalized low-THC cannabis, such as the strain Charlotte's Web, with passage influenced by the pleas of parents seeking help for their children suffering the seizures of epilepsy. The measure will become effective on January 1, 2015.

Despite its support for accommodating special medical conditions like pediatric epilepsy, the Florida Medical Association had previously stated its opposition to medical use of cannabis citing lack of substantiated research on medical use.

The organization says it supports and adopts policy statements from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) believing that "cannabis, cannabis-based products, and cannabis delivery devices should be subject to the same standards that are applicable to other prescription medications and medical devices and that these products should not be distributed or otherwise provided to patients unless and until such products or devices have received marketing approval from the Food and Drug Administration."

There is an unfortunate "catch 22" that makes FDA approval difficult and, perhaps, impossible to obtain. Under Federal law, established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana has been -- and still is -- classified as a Schedule 1 drug. It is defined as having no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. This keeps cannabis in the same legal status as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, meth and peyote.

Those curious about how this unfortunate misclassification of one of Mother Nature's most remarkable plants has impacted lives and policy can learn a great deal from Fort Lauderdale resident Irvin Rosenfeld who has long fought a personal and political battle to obtain the medicine he needs to stay alive and pain free.

And, the most surprising aspect of Irvin's continued good health is that his "dealer" is the Federal government. Yes, our tax dollars support a farm in Mississippi that grows the "pot" Rosenfeld regularly receives.

The big money being spent on advertising for and against Amendment 2 is where everything intersects. On the "pro" side is big donor attorney John Morgan who is joined by many other small level in-state and out-of-state donors who have contributed to the campaign coffers through United We Care.

Morgan's brother, Tim, became a quadriplegic at the age of 18 in a diving accident and now suffers from cancer. As a result of the accident, Tim experienced painful spasms and nerve pain. He also developed a condition called Autonomic Dysreflexia leading to uncomfortable blood pressure spikes.

After Tim's injury, his doctors had him on a series of pharmaceuticals, including Vicodin, Celebrex, Vioxx, Darvacet, and Xanax. They left him feeling like he was in a stupor but his
life changed after he was able to start smoking (and later eating) a small amount of marijuana. His spasms instantly eased up and his nerve pain became manageable. And remarkably, he stopped having Autonomic Dysreflexia symptoms.

Later, in his 40s, Tim was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy followed -- and everything that comes with those. He tried Marinol, the legal pharmaceutical alternative to natural marijuana -- at $3500 a pill -- and it didn't work.

Marijuana, on the other hand, got him through his pain and nausea. He was able to regulate it, to get the desired affects without feeling or acting stoned. It didn't just better his quality of life. He believes he's still alive because it's helped manage the life threatening symptoms and avoid the deadly effects of narcotics.

Tim knows his story isn't unique. He believes no one in Florida should have to worry about the legality of managing their pain or nausea and that the only moral vote on Amendment 2 is YES.

The big opposition money is primarily coming from out-of-state Adelson whose motives are not clear.

On the one hand, he is a good friend of Sembler and is a political supporter of former Gov. Rick Scott who is running for governor on the current Republican ticket. Scott is opposed to Amendment 2. On the other hand, Adelson funds research in Israel on the treatment potential of cannabis for MS and PTSD.

Moving from the high level machinations in this important election, I have a personal story to relate. My 90-year-old mother lives in Florida and is a smart, active, vital participant in the upcoming election who is carefully studying all the propositions on the ballot.

When I asked her how she and her friends were planning on voting on Amendment 2, she said that there was no question that she would vote for it. I probed further, wondering what argument for voting YES seemed to hold the most sway among her and her friends. She said that if anyone had a loved one whose life had been soothed but the healing properties of cannabis, they were voting yes.

My Mom, who describes herself as "an antique", has much wisdom to share. What she believes is the bottom line on Amendment 2 -- compassionate care for all -- is what Florida voters should rest their vote on. Needless to say, I completely agree.