Pubdate: Sun, 09 Feb 2014
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Author: Tom Knight
Note: Thomas M. Knight is the Sarasota County sheriff.


In November, voters will consider legalizing marijuana in the state 
of Florida for medicinal purposes.

Organizers easily gathered the signatures needed to get the issue on 
the ballot, and various polls suggest there may be enough public 
support to pass it into Florida law.

As someone who owes his job to the wishes of our constituents and the 
elective process, I am always reluctant to deny the people something 
they may want. However, it is my firm belief that the campaign to get 
this issue on the ballot, and the ballot amendment itself, are at 
best misguided and at worst intentionally misleading.

There is overwhelming factual information pointing to the darker side 
of legalized marijuana, even when it is intended strictly for medical 
therapy. Messages in the $4 million-plus campaign to get this issue 
passed have tugged on our emotions and focused on isolated cases, 
without a thought or mention of the many negative, unintended 
consequences that are already playing out in other states that have 
legalized medical marijuana -- even those whose ballot amendment 
language was far more restrictive than what is proposed in Florida.

Although many voters may think that medical marijuana will truly be 
limited to those with chronic, life-threatening conditions or severe, 
unmanageable pain, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that 
this will be our reality if it passes.

Keep in mind that it will not be treated like real medicines -- the 
kinds that are scientifically tested through clinical trials and 
regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Instead, it will be 
more like a homeopathic substance, sold not by pharmacists but 
marijuana retailers.

Since Florida does not have an FDA-like agency, it will not be 
closely monitored and controlled. We have a hard enough time 
controlling the use and distribution of medicines that are 
FDA-approved, including and especially prescription painkillers.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that we had the infrastructure in 
place to genuinely limit its use to therapy.

Although I'm not a doctor, there are those who insist it can 
alleviate symptoms in people with certain conditions. However, our 
ballot language does not define exactly what those conditions are. 
And interestingly, while pro-legalization commercials and websites 
repeatedly reference the support of doctors and the medical 
community, both the Florida Medical Association and the American 
Medical Association have issued statements opposing marijuana's 
legalization, as have the National Cancer Institute and the American 
Cancer Society.

In fact, terminal sufferers account for only a small fraction of 
medical marijuana patients in other states.

In Colorado, where nearly 107,000 patients have approval for medical 
marijuana, the average user is a male in his 30s with no terminal 
illness and a history of drug abuse.

Only 2 percent of Colorado medical marijuana patients report being 
treated for cancer, less than 1 percent report treatment for 
HIV/AIDS, and only 1 percent report treatment for glaucoma.

The statistics from other states that permit medical marijuana show 

If passed, medical marijuana will be available in Florida for any 
condition a doctor determines to be "debilitating," and with no age 

What we will likely (almost certainly) see is a proliferation of 
marijuana dispensaries in our communities, because the profit 
potential here is enormous.

Census data suggests that communities with populations comparable to 
Sarasota's in states that permit medical marijuana have already 
experienced this. To evaluate this for yourself, visit Thus, Venice, Florida, could mirror Venice, 
California, where marijuana dispensaries are a common sight along the 
famous beach.

Can you imagine Siesta Key Village or St. Armands Circle with 
marijuana dispensaries at every turn?

Because federal law makes marijuana illegal, corresponding banking 
and credit card restrictions make medical marijuana a largely cash 
business. As with any cash business involving a commodity that people 
crave, the infiltration of organized crime has followed.

In November 2013, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided several 
Colorado marijuana dispensaries based on suspected ties to Colombian 
drug cartels. Given that Florida has almost four times the population 
of Colorado, this trend will easily migrate here.

As you, the voter, weigh the legalization of medical marijuana, I 
hope you will take the time to do thorough research and look beyond 
the heart-string-tugging campaign sound bites, because it is vitally 
important to understand the potential fallout of this proposed 
amendment. If it passes, we all have to live with the consequences -- 
whether or not we choose to use it as "medicine."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom