Pubdate: Sun, 09 Nov 2014
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2014 The Palm Beach Post
Author: Rick Christie
Page: A17


Florida voters denied - barely - a political imperative to pass a 
constitutional amendment legalizing the use of medical marijuana by 
folks with debilitating illnesses.

It falls upon the Florida lawmakers to follow a moral imperative to 
pass medical marijuana legislation and give relief to thousands of 
Floridians suffering from horrible ailments. This is reason enough to 
move quickly, but faith in this Legislature on this issue is hard to come by.

Republican lawmakers have been magnanimous in the wake of the 
amendment's defeat. (It garnered 58 percent voter support instead of 
the 60 percent needed to pass.) They say that they are now willing to 
listen. They'd better, or they're likely to get steamrolled in 
another two years.

Still, this is the Republican-controlled Legislature that barely 
passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, also known as the 
Charlotte's Web law, in this year's session. That measure, scheduled 
to take effect Jan. 1, will allow the use of non-euphoric medical 
marijuana to treat epilepsy, other conditions that cause frequent 
seizures or muscle spasms - mostly in children.

Health experts have noted, however, that maybe 1,500 kids in the 
state would benefit directly from Charlotte's Web. The Florida 
Department of Health, meanwhile, estimated some 450,000 people in the 
state would benefit from some form of medical marijuana containing 
higher amounts (about 30 percent versus 4 percent for Charlotte's 
Web) of tetrahydrocannabinol - also known as THC - which can cause euphoria.

Those who supported Amendment 2 said many people suffering from a 
variety of illnesses and conditions need marijuana with more THC to 
relieve their suffering. The proposed amendment would allow the 
medical use of marijuana for individuals with "debilitating 
diseases," such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, ALS and Parkinson's.

It was the measure's "other conditions ..." that scared some folks. 
Opponents spent $8 million hammering away at loopholes in the 
amendment they said would usher in legalization of recreational 
marijuana use. Better to leave it to the Florida Legislature to 
approve the use of medical marijuana through legislative statute.

A better approach, to be sure, but that would mean trusting the 
Legislature to act. That's a lot of trust for the families and 
friends forced to watch their loved ones suffer with severe pain day 
after day, week after week.

The amendment's defeat now puts the ball in the Legislature's court, 
however. And they do have some incentive to act.

Florida lawmakers already have a blueprint for a tightly controlled 
cultivation and dispensing system from when they legalized the 
Charlotte's Web strain this year. Although hampered by litigation 
against some of the proposed rules, Republican Sen. Rob Bradley, 
R-Orange Park, who sponsored the Charlotte's Web law in the Senate, 
said finalizing the guidelines will be the Legislature's first order 
of business.

There will be tremendous pressure coming from business people who see 
the financial opportunities in opening grow operations and 
dispensaries. They know that low voter turnout was a factor in the 
amendment's approval falling short. As a result, they are keeping a 
watchful eye, and even gearing up for a possible 2016 ballot initiative.

They're not alone. State referendums are queuing up for 2016 after 
voters in Oregon, Washington, D.C., and Alaska approved recreational 
marijuana initiatives last week.

To that end, Orlando attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled much of the 
Amendment 2 movement to the tune of about $6.5 million, has already 
put the Legislature on notice: pass something in 2015 or we will be 
back in 2016 - a presidential year likely to garner much higher voter turnout.

Are GOP legislative leaders really ready to listen?

Bradley said Morgan "is absolutely right when he says this issue is 
not going away. Amendment 2 was too broad, but that doesn't mean that 
the discussion ends."

But in the next breath, he says, "We need to hear from everyday 
Floridians, from people who are suffering."

Huh? Who does he think has been trying to get his attention for the 
past year? The airwaves have been thick with sobbing parents, 
pleading spouses, and even a cajoling former Florida House Speaker, 
all telling their very personal stories.

These same people are now trusting that the Legislature will truly 
listen. Whether they deserve that trust remains to be seen.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom