Pubdate: Sat, 18 Oct 2014
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2014 The Palm Beach Post
Page: A14


It's not difficult to understand the recent erosion of support for 
Amendment 2, the ballot initiative that would expand the use of 
marijuana in Florida by patients suffering from debilitating illnesses.

Indeed, after polling as high as 80 percent among likely voters in 
the spring, most polls now have it barely hitting the 60 percent 
threshold needed for passage.

Opponents hammer away at loopholes in the amendment language that 
they say open the door to abuse - by patients, caregivers and doctors 
alike. There is also the underlying fear that that door will usher in 
legalization of recreational use.

Leave it to the Florida Legislature instead, they say. Better to 
approve the use of medical marijuana through legislative statute, as 
has been done by most of the 23 states and District of Columbia that 
now have such laws.

We agree. That would be the better approach, if we could trust the 
Legislature to act. But this spring, this same Legislature only 
grudgingly passed a non-euphoric kind of medical marijuana, to treat 
epilepsy and other conditions that cause frequent seizures and muscle 
spasms - mostly in children.

This Legislature needs to be motivated to action - sooner rather than 
later. That's why we're recommending that voters approve Amendment 2.

There are potentially a half-million Floridians who can be helped by 
this amendment, according to state estimates. Their loved ones are 
forced to watch them suffer with severe pain day after day, week 
after week, unable to legally provide them another way to alleviate 
pain that doesn't bring its own awful side effects.

Amendment 2 would allow the medical use of marijuana for individuals 
with "debilitating diseases," which the measure defines as "cancer, 
glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), 
acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic 
lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, 
multiple sclerosis or other conditions for which a physician believes 
that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential 
health risks for a patient."

It is the "other conditions ..." that has many opponents up in arms. 
And rightly so. It is a loophole that can possibly be exploited by 
unscrupulous, or even well-intentioned, doctors. Moreover, Florida's 
recent history with "pill mills" provides a cautionary tale for going 
down this road.

But "pill mills" were not tightly regulated, as the new marijuana 
dispensaries hopefully will be. What's more, the Legislature will 
have the ability through rule-making to limit how many spring up. 
Finally, despite the pill mill crackdown, it's not like highly 
addictive painkillers - such as Vicodin and Oxycontin - suddenly went 
away. Indeed, they are prescribed - legally - with some frequency, 
even though they are far more dangerous than marijuana.

There is also concern that the six-month window for the state 
Department of Health to implement Amendment 2, if it passes, is too 
tight to write rules that must include issuing identification cards 
to patients and caregivers, developing medical marijuana treatment 
centers and determining treatment amounts to ensure the "safe use of 
medical marijuana by qualifying patients."

But the Legislature already has a blueprint for a tightly controlled 
cultivation and dispensing system from when it legalized the 
Charlotte's Web strain of marijuana this year. Also, a bipartisan 
panel of law enforcement, medical and government experts recently 
proposed 56 ideas - from doctor certification to treatment center 
access and product testing - that they said legislators should 
implement if the amendment passes.

The Florida Supreme Court, in January, found that the ballot language 
was clear and not misleading.

The justices did their jobs. Voters should make state lawmakers do 
theirs, by voting "Yes" on Amendment 2.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom