Pubdate: Wed, 01 Oct 2014
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Author: Zac Anderson


The pain doctor called it a treatment that has not been properly
tested. The sheriff raised the fear of more crime. The lawyer
emphasized the carefully-crafted legal boundaries. The scientist said
it is a drug with significant benefits.

Florida voters will soon decide whether the state should become the
first in the south to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, and all
sides are urging voters to get informed on the issue before casting
their ballots.

A panel of experts assembled Wednesday by the Herald-Tribune as part
of the ongoing "Hot Topics" series of community forums hosted by New
College gave a thorough overview of the issues at stake in the medical
marijuana debate.

The panelists included Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight, pain
medicine specialist Dr. Rafael Miguel, University of Florida Law
School professor Jon Mills and Eckerd College biology professor Greg

Most of the debate centered around whether marijuana has legitimate
medical benefits, and whether the constitutional amendment is narrowly
crafted or could open the door to widespread use for minor medical

Mills helped draft the amendment. The constitutional law expert argued
that it is limited in scope because it specifies marijuana must be
prescribed by a doctor and only for a "debilitating condition."

Those interested in using marijuana for "recreation are going to be
sorely disappointed and somebody who prescribed it is going to be in
jail," Mills said.

Miguel strongly disagreed, saying the language is open for too much

"It's a very poorly written constitutional amendment, I'm sorry," he

The physician also took issue with the fact that marijuana would not
undergo the same testing as other drugs if the right to medical pot is
placed in the state constitution. He said larger studies are needed to
determine if marijuana has significant side effects.

"Why does marijuana get a pass?" he asked.

Gerdeman, a pharmacology expert who has closely examined marijuana
research, said the drug has been demonized by the federal government
and law enforcement for too long and there are too many barriers to
its study. Evidence shows it has medical benefits, he added.

"The tradition of cannabis spreading around the world is one of an
effective and safe medicine," he said.

Knight did not question the medical benefits of the drug but argued
its widespread use could lead to more crime and addiction problems.

"My jail is full of addictions," he said.

That led to another debate over the addictiveness of marijuana.
Gerdeman argued it was less addictive than many other drugs.

"The bigger problem is it's seen as a gateway drug," said

About 150 people attended the marijuana forum at New College's Mildred
Sainer Pavilion.

"It's definitely a hot topic," Donal O'Shea, the college president,
said in welcoming the crowd. "Everybody's got an opinion on this."
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