Pubdate: Wed, 20 Apr 2016
Source: Orlando Weekly (FL)
Copyright: 2016 Orlando Weekly
Author: Monivette Cordeiro


Love Is In The Air

Remember that time in 2014 when medical marijuana got a half-million
more votes than Gov. Rick Scott but was still defeated? No? Let's recap.

Two years ago, Florida's biggest political issue, aside from Scott
beating Charlie Crist and his loyal Vornado Air Circulator fan for a
second term, was Amendment 2, a measure that would have legalized
medical marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions.
United for Care and its chairman, Orlando attorney John Morgan, pulled
in millions of dollars to fight for the initiative. Drug Free Florida,
which counted on supporters like the Florida Sheriffs Association, the
Florida Medical Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce,
hauled in its own share of cash, including a $5 million contribution
from casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, to oppose medical marijuana.

The Florida Sheriffs Association and other anti-marijuana groups also
launched the "Don't Let Florida Go to Pot" campaign (self-described as
"a group of people and organizations that are educating Floridians on
the dangers of marijuana"). Led by then-FSA president Polk County
Sheriff Grady Judd, the campaign claimed Amendment 2 would lead to "de
facto legislation" of marijuana. This reporter remembers one
Auburndale Chamber of Commerce meeting in Polk County at which Judd
told the crowd that dangerous loopholes in the amendment would create
pot shops around the state; let neighborhood drug dealers register as
caregivers; allow children to procure marijuana, leading to edible
marijuana treats being marketed to them; and mandate no liability for
medical professionals and growers.

"Amendment 2 is a wolf in sheep's clothing," Judd told a silent room.
"You are being scammed. ... They are taking advantage of your

Critics called Judd's methods "scare tactics." Those tactics may have
inspired fear in some Floridians, because Amendment 2 failed. It
received the support of the majority of voters, 58 percent, but failed
to garner the 60 percent of votes it needed to become law.

Morgan vowed to bring medical marijuana back on the 2016 November
ballot, and earlier this year, United for Care announced it had
collected more than the required 683,149 signatures for Amendment 2 to
go before Florida voters a second time.

But this time the opposition to medical marijuana has been quiet,
almost nonexistent, says Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for
Care. Tallahassee lawmakers had a change of heart regarding medical
marijuana this session, and lawmakers in some cities, including
Orlando, have proposed changes to legal citations regarding
recreational marijuana.

"We've basically had the opportunity to do another draft and tightened
it up a bit," he says. "We've changed some things based on perception
and what our opponents and the Florida Supreme Court said."

Pollara says Amendment 2 now lists PTSD along with cancer, glaucoma,
epilepsy, HIV, AIDS, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and
multiple sclerosis under "debilitating medical conditions," as well as
medical conditions "of the same kind or class as or comparable to
those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical
use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for
a patient," he says.

Amendment 2 also contains new language on parental consent for minors
seeking medical marijuana. Pollara says it was "intellectually
dishonest" when opponents claimed physicians would give minors
marijuana without parental consent, but they decided to add a clause
anyway that requires physicians to obtain written consent from a
parent. Caregivers would have to qualify and register with the Florida
Department of Health, and the amendment allows the department to limit
the number of patients a caregiver can serve.

"When our amendment went to the Florida Supreme Court last time, they
filed nearly 3,000 pages of legal briefs against it," Pollara says.
"This time there's literally zero opposition. The Supreme Court put us
unanimously on the ballot."

The money trail seems to prove this. So far this year, the Drug Free
Florida Committee has only received a $1,000 contribution from one
person, according to Florida Division of Elections records. People
United for Medical Marijuana, the group associated with United for
Care, received almost $240,000 in the first three months of 2016.

"I think we're going to win," Pollara says. "Serving sick and
suffering people has been the core of this campaign."

The FSA hasn't taken an official position on the amendment. In
February, the organization passed a resolution saying that the
legalization of marijuana would "be contrary to the interests of the
public health, safety and welfare," but also that the Florida
Legislature should be "the exclusive forum to initiate and make
appropriate changes to laws related to the legalization of medical
marijuana." Additionally, Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre voiced his
support for medical marijuana based on its therapeutic properties.

"Individual sheriffs have the right to tell the public whether they
support or oppose a constitutional amendment," says FSA spokesman Adam
Montgomery in an email. "FSA will continue to work with its partners
to educate the public about the harms of drug use, and sheriffs can
inform citizens about their position on constitutional amendments that
will be before the voters in this fall."

The normally outspoken Sheriff Grady Judd hasn't come out and said
publicly what he thinks of Amendment 2 this time around.

"Sheriff Judd was the president of the Florida Sheriffs Association in
2014, when the so-called 'medical marijuana' constitutional amendment
was proposed," says Donna Wood, spokeswoman for the Polk County
Sheriff's Office, in an email. "He helped lead a successful statewide
coalition against the amendment  and the amendment failed. The
Sheriff's term as the FSA president is over and he is not leading a
statewide opposition to this year's amendment. However, he believes
now, as he did then, that marijuana is not a medicine."

While the fight to pass Amendment 2 continues, there have been other
developments in the legalization of medical marijuana that reflect
changing attitudes at the state level. The Florida Legislature passed
a measure this year that expands a 2014 law that legalized
non-euphoric strains of marijuana. House Bill 307 allows terminally
ill patients to have access to drugs, including full-strength
marijuana, that haven't been approved for general use by the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration.

Although the 2014 law allowed five nurseries to grow marijuana for the
entire state, administrative issues and lawsuits over licensing have
bogged down the process. San Felasco Nurseries in Gainesville became
the sixth dispensing organization after an administrative judge ruled
in February that state officials wrongly rejected the nursery's
application. Under HB 307, dispensing organizations that won legal
challenges can also get licenses to start growing both low-THC and
full-strength medical marijuana.

Lawmakers' attitudes on recreational marijuana are also changing, but
legal reform has been limited to cities and counties. On Monday,
Orlando's City Council voted 4-3 to approve an ordinance that would
decriminalize the possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana, making
it a violation of city code and giving officers the option to issue
civil citations. There will be a second reading of the ordinance at
the council's next meeting May 9.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced last week that the civil penalties
for possessing small amounts of marijuana could range from a $50 fine
to a mandated court hearing, depending on the classification of the
violation. The proposed measure follows similar laws that passed in
Tampa and Volusia County.

"Sometimes, because of youthful mistakes, these young people enter the
criminal justice system for possessing a small amount of marijuana,"
Dyer said at a press conference. "With an arrest record, it becomes
more challenging for them to get a job, join the military or get
financial aid for continuing their education. ... This change in
policy will help us protect the futures of our young people."

Stephen Hegarty, spokesman for the Tampa Police Department, says the
department believed the penalties for possessing small amounts of pot
were harsher than the offense.

"The majority of City Council agreed that sometimes someone makes a
mistake in judgment," he says. "We're not condoning illegal drug use
and we're not looking the other way. This was a way to provide a
second [or] third chance for people without them having a criminal
record that could affect future job prospects."

Like the proposed ordinance in Orlando, the Tampa law only allows
people to receive a civil citation for marijuana possession if it's
not tied to any other crime, and officers can use their discretion in
deciding who gets a citation. Hegarty says some people have the
misconception that the citation program works like a traffic ticket.

"It's not a brief encounter and can make for an inconvenient night,"
he says. "They can search your car and sometimes put you in handcuffs
while they run tests on the marijuana."

Matt Morgan, son of John Morgan, called Orlando's move a "great step
in the right direction," and even if those efforts don't provide
access to medical marijuana, it can be a relief to patients who've
been purchasing weed illegally for themselves or their children.

"What this does is send a message to Florida that there are people out
there who need this medicine," he says. "It also sends the message
that if you are in an unfortunate event where you make a mistake and
are caught with a small amount of marijuana that you shouldn't be
jailed for it. You should be given a second chance."

Matt Morgan says he's optimistic that opponents of Amendment 2 will
endorse it in this election cycle because of the changes they've made.

"We need to do everything we can to support 'Yes on 2' and pass that
amendment in November," he says. "The stigma of marijuana use before
our first campaign was initiated was much different than it is now.
Among Floridians, there is a more accepted perception of marijuana at
this point in time, and I think gradually over time we keep getting to
a point where the majority of Floridians are ready for legal medical
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D