Pubdate: Sat, 21 May 2016
Source: Orlando Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2016 Orlando Sentinel
Note: Rarely prints out-of-state LTEs.
Author: Gray Rohrer


TALLAHASSEE - The medical marijuana amendment is back, and the fight 
over the issue is poised to return to the airwaves and screens of all 
sizes throughout Florida.

Drug Free Florida, the group that successfully fended off a similar 
amendment in 2014, released its first video this week attacking the 
new measure that will go before voters on the November ballot. The 
three-minute video is running online only, but it signals the start 
of a campaign likely to inundate the state with ads.

The video compares the ballot measure with California's experience, 
which it portrays as having a glut of pot shops and users who have at 
best a weak link to any medical malady.

"It really isn't something that looks like a pharmacy; it's really 
something recreational, and it's not really going to people in need," 
said Christina Johnson, spokeswoman for No on 2, Drug Free Florida's campaign.

Drug Free Florida's political committee raised $6.4 million to defeat 
the similar initiative in 2014, with the vast majority of that coming 
from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the family trust of Carol 
Jenkins Barnett, CEO of Publix.

But it has raised little since, according to the latest state 
campaign finance report. Johnson said that will change soon, though.

"Right now we're in the initial stages of putting things together, 
and I know the finance committee is going to go out there raising 
money and I think that'll dictate what our general election strategy 
will be," Johnson said.

By contrast, the political committee for United for Care, the group 
supporting the amendment, has raised and spent $3.6 million since the 
2014 election, although most of that money went to paid petition 
gatherers to get the measure on the ballot again.

Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, a Democratic fundraiser, is backing 
the push again this time. His firm has contributed $2.7 million since 
June 2015 to the campaign.

The 2014 measure received 58 percent of the vote, but constitutional 
amendments need 60 percent to pass in Florida.

The 2016 amendment would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to 
patients with a "debilitating" disease or condition, such as cancer, 
epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, posttraumatic stress disorder, ALS, 
Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.

The previous ballot measure defined eligible diseases more loosely. 
Supporters say the new amendment tightens up the concerns over 
loopholes that opponents say would allow for de facto legalization.

In addition to the stricter definition, it mandates more state 
oversight, including requiring parents to give written consent to the 
state to allow their children to be prescribed marijuana.

"The opposition says 'medical marijuana is for anything, it's for a 
hangnail.' Well, no it's only for debilitating medical conditions," 
said United for Care director Ben Pollara.

No matter the outcome this time, though, controversy over the issue 
will linger. Marijuana is still classified by the federal government 
as a Schedule I drug, with its sale and use banned.

Public health departments and the criminal justice system will have 
to deal with a shift in attitudes toward the drug.

The Florida Department of Health already is struggling with licensing 
nurseries to grow and sell non-euphoric strands of marijuana for 
epileptic patients, two years after the Legislature passed a law 
allowing them to do so.

Law enforcement officials will have to grapple with differing 
punishments for marijuana possession as different cities take up 
softer penalties.

Daytona Beach became the latest city to do so on Thursday, passing an 
ordinance allowing officers to hand out tickets to those caught with 
less than 20 grams of marijuana. Orlando passed a similar measure 
last week, but many nearby municipalities have not.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom