The Battle Over Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Timeline




Contrasting Views of Marijuana Color Debate Over Amendment 2

LAKELAND | On Nov. 4, Florida voters will have the chance to give desperately ill residents overdue access to a medication known to alleviate suffering.

Or voters will have the chance to prevent a colossal mistake that would make it easy for children to get marijuana, yield more pot shops than McDonald's in Polk County and pave the way for outright legalization of the weed.

Those are the starkly divergent arguments swirling around Amendment 2, a proposed revision to the state constitution that would allow Floridians to use marijuana as a medical treatment. The issue pits two titans of persuasion -- Orlando lawyer John Morgan and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd -- as the main voices for the pro-2 and anti-2 sides, respectively.

"Smoked marijuana is not medicine, period, and Amendment 2 is about legalizing marijuana," Judd said. "It's a fraud, and they're trying to perpetrate it on the compassionate people of the state of Florida."

Morgan countered: "I'm confident it's going to pass because I believe in the people, and I believe the people are compassionate. Cancer and ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and multiple sclerosis and AIDS do not pick political parties. This is not a political issue; this is an issue of compassion and medicine."

The vote will determine whether Florida joins 23 states and the District of Columbia, which have already passed laws either legalizing medical marijuana or making possession a non-criminal offense. Unrestricted use of marijuana -- also called cannabis -- is legal in two states, Colorado and Washington.

Voters will find a 75-word summary of the amendment on the ballot, a length limit set by state law. The summary says the measure allows use of marijuana "for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician." It also allows "caregivers to assist patients' medical use of marijuana."

The amendment would charge the Florida Department of Health with regulating growers and dispensaries and creating an identification system for patients and caregivers.

A Quinnipiac University survey in July found 88 percent of Florida voters supported medical marijuana, though opponents note the poll didn't specifically ask about or explain Amendment 2. Other recent polls have measured support for the amendment at 66 to 70 percent.

Under Florida law, constitutional amendments need 60 percent approval to pass.

Morgan, who spent nearly $4 million on a successful petition effort, said he is motivated by seeing how marijuana helped his late father during treatment for cancer and emphysema and his brother, Tim, who was paralyzed in a life-guarding accident at age 18. Morgan founded United for Care, the nonprofit organization leading the Amendment 2 campaign.

The group's website contains dozens of written testimonials from people who say marijuana has relieved symptoms of chronic pain, epilepsy, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, chemotherapy-induced nausea and more. Morgan and other proponents say the amendment is necessary because the Florida Legislature has ignored calls to legalize medical marijuana.

The legislature did pass and Gov. Rick Scott signed a law this year allowing use of "Charlotte's Web," a cannabis-based oil with no intoxicating properties, to treat childhood epilepsy and some other conditions. Advocates for Amendment 2 say that is a positive first step but will only help a small subset of Floridians.

The main organization opposing the amendment, the Drug Free Florida Committee, has been running Internet ads with such headlines as, "Amendment 2 Creates 1,800 Pot Shops All Over Florida."

The Florida Sheriffs Association, of which Judd is immediate past president, is aligned with the committee in pushing a campaign called "Don't Let Florida Go to Pot." Judd has taped a video segment for the campaign launched in June and has spoken to gatherings at churches, retirement homes and civic organizations.

AREAS OF DISAGREEMENT

The debate largely centers on a few points of contention: Would Amendment 2 create a "Wild West of Weed" atmosphere, a la California? Is the amendment a disguised bid for full legalization of marijuana? Is there scientific proof of marijuana's medicinal value? Would the amendment let teenagers get marijuana without their parents' knowledge?

Judd routinely cites California as a cautionary example of Florida's potential future. California voters approved legal marijuana in 1996, and critics say the state's loose regulatory system allows virtually anyone claiming any vague ailment to get a license and buy marijuana at one of the state's plentiful dispensaries.

Based on the number of "pot shops" per capita in Orange County, Calif., Judd calculates Amendment 2 would yield more than 50 dispensaries in Polk County -- more than double the number of McDonald's restaurants.

Proponents of Amendment 2 say that is just one area in which Judd is using "scare tactics." Morgan said the measure appoints Florida's Department of Health to establish regulations and oversee the resulting network of dispensaries.

"It's not going to be California," Morgan said. "There are 20 other states that have it (legal medical marijuana) now. Nobody ever hears anything about those other states, and the reason they don't is it was enacted in a totally different way from California. Tell (opponents) go take a look at Arizona."

TROJAN HORSE?

Judd frequently says Amendment 2 contains loopholes "large enough to float a battleship through." He and other critics say intentionally vague wording makes Amendment 2 a de facto legalization of recreational marijuana.

In its definition of a "debilitating medical condition," the full text lists cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and other illnesses "or other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

Dr. Sergio Seoane, a family practitioner in Lakeland and former president of the Polk County Medical Association, says that wording is far too imprecise.

"What does the term 'debilitating diseases' mean?" Seoane asked. "It could, and does, literally mean anything -- for example, headaches, nausea, back pain, fatigue and malaise. ... If the proponents of marijuana want to be able to use this drug for recreational purposes, they should be honest about it and state exactly that."

Morgan justifies the phase "or other conditions" by saying the list of ailments for which marijuana is a potential treatment grows by the day.

"I trust the doctors of Florida to give our people what they need and their patients what they need," he said. "Doctors are some of the smartest people I know."

Morgan says legalization of recreational use would require another ballot measure or an act of the Republican-controlled Legislature. He says both are highly unlikely.

Lance deHaven Smith, a professor of public administration and policy at Florida State University, concurred.

"It's unfair, but it's to some extent understandable that people conflate these very different things -- medical marijuana and recreational marijuana legalization," Smith said. "You would have to pass another amendment in Florida to open this up wider, and frankly I think that would be hard to do with a 60 percent threshold."

LACK OF EVIDENCE?

Seoane says there is no scientific evidence to support claims of marijuana's medicinal properties. He said proponents can only cite individual stories like those posted on the United for Care website, and he said anecdotes should not drive public policy.

Seoane even breaks with other Amendment 2 critics in saying the Florida Legislature erred in passing the so-called Charlotte's Web law.

"The term 'medical marijuana' is similar to using the term 'medical alcohol,'" Seoane said. "Drinking whiskey certainly has physiological effects, but I would not describe alcohol as medically useful. ... The vast majority of the physicians that I speak to realize that the evidence for marijuana as a medical therapy is poor to non-existent."

That is a point Judd repeatedly makes. He cites opposition to medical marijuana laws from the American Medical Association and the Florida Medical Association.

Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos, a professor of neurology at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said it's virtually impossible to conduct rigorous studies of marijuana's medical benefits in the United States because it has been classified since 1970 as Schedule 1, the designation reserved for drugs with no accepted medical value and high potential for abuse.

Sanchez-Ramos previously oversaw the treatment of Irvin Rosenfeld, a Fort Lauderdale man who has received monthly shipments of marijuana from the federal government since 1982 to treat symptoms of a rare bone disorder. The Compassionate Investigational New Drug Study program was discontinued in 1992, but Rosenfeld is one of two surviving patients still receiving drugs.

Rosenfeld, a stockbroker, said he discovered as a college student that smoking marijuana provided more relief from his symptoms than the narcotic drugs he had been prescribed. He said the drug relaxes his muscles, stifles inflammation, reduces pain and seems to inhibit the development and growth of bone tumors, a risk of his condition.

Rosenfeld smokes an average of 10 joints a day, for a total of more than 130,000 since 1982. He said the daily use of marijuana has allowed him to cease taking any other medicines regularly since 1990.

Sanchez-Ramos said he examined Rosenfeld every six months for about six years.

"It was interesting to see how beneficial (marijuana) was to him," Sanchez-Ramos said. "Contrary to what I had expected ... that he would lose his productivity and become amotivational and have short-term memory problems -- all the stuff that is disseminated as fact -- in reality, in this specific case, it didn't interfere with his cognitive function."

Sanchez-Ramos notes Sativex, an oral spray that allows a cannabis extract to be absorbed by blood vessels and delivered to the brain, has been approved for use in Canada and 23 other countries to treat muscle spasms and neuropathy. He and other proponents of Amendment 2 point to marijuana studies conducted in Israel, whose federal government oversees a medical marijuana program.

CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta focused on Israel, calling it "the medical marijuana research capital," in his documentary "Weed," first broadcast last year.

Dr. Alan Gasner, an internist in Winter Haven, said he was surprised the Florida Medical Association took a position opposing Amendment 2. Gasner, chairman of the ethics committee at Winter Haven Hospital and a former medical director for Good Shepherd Hospice, said he supports Amendment 2 and will recommend marijuana for patients if it passes.

Gasner said he is persuaded by both scientific reports and patient statements about the beneficial effects of marijuana.

"A lot of things we did years ago that were accepted as the gold standard of good medicine turned out not to be so golden," he said, "and things we thought 20 years ago were not to be done now turn out that they should be done. So medicine is in a continual flux, and that's why after 40 years I'm still practicing."

Gasner said he would recommend marijuana for such conditions as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and chronic muscle disorders, and to stimulate appetite in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and even patients with lung disease or Alzheimer's.

Jeffrey Reddout, a Winter Haven psychologist who has closely investigated the issue, said both proponents and opponents of Amendment 2 have made exaggerated claims.

Reddout, who joined Judd at a February forum at Polk State College, said there is indeed evidence of marijuana's medical benefits.

"There's plenty of controversy out there, and there are not zero negative effects," Reddout said. "It's not a panacea. It's not something you can just use without any regard for detrimental effects. But it certainly doesn't deserve to be Schedule 1. It doesn't deserve to be (classified) with addictive drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine."

Morgan notes that Marinol, a drug that contains a synthetic form of THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, is approved for treatment of nausea resulting from chemotherapy and "wasting syndrome" in people with AIDS.

"Why can you buy a pill called Marinol if it has no medicinal value?" Morgan asked. "Who is selling this pill called Marinol if it has no medicinal value?"

POT FOR TEENAGERS?

The Drug Free Florida Committee has been running Internet ads declaring, "Under Amendment 2, teens and children will be able to legally purchase pot without their parents' consent." Judd makes the same point whenever he discusses the amendment.

Ben Pollara, United for Care's campaign manager, dismisses that claim as untrue. Pollara notes Florida law bars doctors from prescribing medication to minors without the consent of a parent or guardian, except in a few circumstances, such as emergencies and pregnancy care.

Morgan scoffed at the notion of kids freely getting marijuana without their parents' knowledge.

"I don't know if Grady Judd's children go to the doctor without him and his wife, but mine don't," Morgan said. "I've never had one of my children go to the doctor by themselves. Now, maybe Grady's get on a bicycle and when they have an injury they ride up to the doctor and the doctor prescribes medicine for them."

Critics point to three words in the "public policy" section of the text, which would allow a "personal caregiver" to obtain marijuana on behalf of a qualifying patient. That phrase is what Judd calls "the drug dealer loophole."

The amendment defines a personal caregiver as someone at least 21 years old who has "agreed to assist with a qualifying patient's medical use of marijuana." Caregivers would be limited to five patients each and would be prohibited from consuming the marijuana they obtained for patients.

Citing the lack of specifics, Judd said virtually anyone could become a caregiver and obtain marijuana for others.

Pollara said the Department of Health would be expected to establish regulations to determine who can become a caregiver.

SMOKED MEDICINE?

While Seoane and other critics of Amendment 2 say there is no such thing as medical marijuana, Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos, a family practitioner in Melbourne and a spokeswoman for Vote No on 2, takes a different approach. She acknowledges marijuana has medicinal value, as evidenced by the existence of Marinol, a drug she uses in her practice,

But smoked marijuana is another matter entirely, says Haridopolos, the wife of former Republican state Sen. Mike Haridopolos.

"I'm not arguing there are not medicinal effects from marijuana," she said. "I just don't think smoking it -- which can cause cancer and bone loss and COPD (lung disease) and emphysema and decrease fertility and shrink the part of the brain that deals with emotion and motivation -- is a good idea."

Haridopolos, a mother of three, said she pushed for passage of the "Anti-Pill Mill Bill" in 2011, when her husband was in office. She said Amendment 2 would encourage the same kind of irresponsible dispensing by shady doctors the 2011 law has helped suppress.

"If most legitimate doctors are not going to be recommending this for their patients, unscrupulous physicians are the ones who will be doing the recommendations," Haridopolos said. "We already have enough problems with drugs in Florida, and given my experience I just feel this amendment, if passed, will be exploited by financial opportunists and people who want to recreationally smoke marijuana."

Judd rejected the idea that any smoked substance could be considered medicine.

"We have spent literally billions of dollars over the years talking about the health dangers to smoking cigarettes, and never has anyone gone to a doctor and had the doctor say, 'Go home and smoke cigarettes till you get well,' and certainly the same is true with marijuana," Judd said.

"Why would we want to do anything to advocate smoking marijuana, putting another foreign substance in your lungs, which is not in the best interest of your health when that's not the way medicine is prescribed?"

Rosenfeld said his experience belies concerns about its harmful effects. Rosenfeld, 61, said he and three other patients in the federal program were examined at the University of Montana in 2001, and the tests found no ill effects from their marijuana use.

He also cited a long-term study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, and published in 2012 that found marijuana smoking did not impair lung function or increase the risk of lung cancer.

Rosenfeld said he often ingests marijuana through a vaporizer at work and has also cooked with a cannabis-derived butter.

Sanchez-Ramos, the USF doctor who previously monitored Rosenfeld, predicted most patients who use cannabis would eventually use vaporizers similar to electronic cigarettes. He said those who receive prescriptions for cannabis extracts will most likely use oral sprays, such as Sativex.

Reddout said skepticism about the idea of a smoked medicine is understandable. Whereas a pill offers a standard dosage, the dose in inhaled smoke is much harder to quantify. But Reddout said smoke provides a faster and more direct effect than consumed forms of marijuana, making it easier for patients to gauge the dosage they need.

UNFORSEEN EFFECTS?

Judd said the amendment would yield a plethora of unintended consequences. He raised the prospect of more Floridians driving while impaired. And he predicted inmates will be able to find "quack, pill-mill doctors" and file lawsuits to force taxpayers to supply them with marijuana.

"There are all kinds of issues that attach to this amendment that folks must think about," Judd said. "It's not just flipping a lever one way or the other and walking away. It's unintended consequences and unintended costs. It (Amendment 2) is full of problems, and the devil is in the details."

Smith, the FSU professor, suggested Amendment 2's fate could be decided by Floridians who cast votes -- either for or against -- without a clear understanding of the measure.

"This is a complicated issue, and it's going to be hard to get good information out to the public," he said.

"The people who pay attention have already got their minds made up on most issues. The people they're trying to influence are people who don't pay much attention, and that means they're not going to get the details. They're going to be swayed by propaganda, effectively, by fear-mongering and that kind of thing, and that's normal. I would not expect this to be a real sophisticated conversation."

[ Gary White can be reached at gary.white@theledger.com or 863-802-7518. He blogs about tourism at http://tourism.blogs.theledger.com. Follow on Twitter @garywhite13. ]

Medical Marijuana Laws

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that allow the medical use of marijuana:


Some Critics Say Amendment 2 Will Bring More Democrats to Polls Nov. 4.

LAKELAND | State constitutional amendments sometimes create obvious partisan divisions, but observers say the political dimensions surrounding Florida's proposed Amendment 2 are complicated.

"I don't think this is a partisan issue," said Bruce Anderson, a political science professor at Florida Southern College. "It may be an ideological issue in the end about law enforcement and about skepticism about loosening laws around marijuana, but that doesn't necessarily make it a partisan issue."

Some would say Amendment 2 is Democratic by association. John Morgan, an Orlando lawyer and a prominent Democratic Party booster, spent roughly $4 million on a successful petition effort to get the measure on the ballot and heads United for Care, a nonprofit campaigning for its passage.

Some Republicans say Morgan wanted the proposal on the ballot as a way to increase turnout among Democratic voters in a mid-term election. Charlie Crist, the expected Democratic candidate for governor, is employed by Morgan's law firm.

Morgan said his motivation is personal after seeing the suffering of his paralyzed brother and his late father and by compassion for ailing Floridians, not political considerations.

"I never thought Charlie Crist would be running for governor when I started this thing," Morgan said. "I like Charlie Crist, and I want Charlie Crist to be our next governor, but I don't like Charlie Crist $4 million worth."

The main organization opposing the amendment, the Drug Free Florida Committee, is a political-action group created and heavily funded by Mel Sembler, a St. Petersburg developer and Republican Party booster. The group's Vote No on 2 campaign received a $2.5 million donation from Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas-based casino magnate and a major donor to Gov. Rick Scott's reelection campaign.

The committee has also received donations totaling of $320,000 from the Carol Jenkins Barnett Family Trust.

Lakeland's Barnett, the daughter of Publix Super Markets founder George W. Jenkins, is a board member of Publix Super Markets and president of Publix Super Markets Charities.

In a statement issued through a Publix spokeswoman, Barnett said the trust "has long supported efforts to protect Florida's families and children against the perils of drug abuse. ... In its current language, Amendment 2 would usher in an unprecedented era of legalized marijuana in the state of Florida as opposed to solely helping those who suffer from debilitating illnesses."

State records show Barnett made donations to 11 candidates, all of them Republicans, in the 2012 election cycle.

CROSSING LINES


POLK COUNTY SHERIFF GRADY JUDD shows a map of how many medical marijuana dispensaries there could be as he speaks to the Tiger Bay Club at the Bartow Civic Center in March 25. (RICK RUNION | THE LEDGER)

Major donors notwithstanding, Amendment 2 raises questions that defy clear partisan identification, said Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration at Florida State University.

"I think there will be Democratic support and Republican opposition to some degree," he said, "but you have cross-cutting preferences in that you have young Republicans who are likely to favor it. You have senior-citizen Republicans who may favor it. You have parents who are Democrats who may oppose it."

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is the leading voice for a campaign called "Don't Let Florida Go to Pot." Judd is immediate past president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, which has a tax status that forbids it from political campaign activity. Judd said his frequent talks are aimed at educating voters rather than telling them how to vote.

United for Care has accused Judd of misusing his office for political purposes, citing an invitation on his official letterhead he sent in late July to Polk County pastors inviting them to a "special summit" to discuss Amendment 2. Though United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara criticized Judd for the letter, the group has not filed a formal complaint.


Deborah Thatcher and Jeff Thompson volunteers with United For Care - People United for Medical Marijuana, call petition-signers in April as a follow up to inform them of the placement of Amendment 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot. (MICHAEL WILSON | THE LEDGER)

Irvin Rosenfeld, a Fort Lauderdale stockbroker who has received marijuana from the federal government since 1982 through a discontinued experimental drug program, questioned why Judd is leading the campaign against Amendment 2.

"Why should sheriffs come out against anything?" he asked. "Their job should be to enforce the laws, not try to establish what the laws should be. If I get really sick today, I'm not going to pick up the phone and call the police. If come home today and my house has been broken into, I'm not going to pick up the phone and call my doctor."


HARD TO AVOID

Anderson said he doesn't think Amendment 2 will be a "top of ballot" issue, or high priority, for most voters. Yet he said candidates for state office probably can't avoid the issue entirely.

"I suspect Amendment 2 will become the great 'undodgeable' issue of 2014," he said. "I don't think politicians are going to have much choice. I think they will all have to struggle with this issue. They'll all have to come up with a position on it."

Florida law requires 60 percent approval for constitutional amendments to become law. Only 11 of 24 proposed amendments have met that threshold since it took effect in 2008.

Even if voters don't line up by party on Amendment 2, the divide among elected officials seems roughly partisan. A spokesman said Scott will vote against Amendment 2, though the spokesman added, "The governor makes it very clear when asked that no matter his personal beliefs, the ballot initiative would be up for the voters to decide."

Crist, by contrast, has voiced support for Amendment 2.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican and former congressman from Bartow, said he is "adamantly opposed" to the amendment.

"The proposed constitutional amendment is poorly written and would open the floodgates for anyone with as much as a headache to access this gateway drug," Putnam, who is not facing an election this year, said in an emailed statement. "It would be a big, black eye on Florida's sterling, family friendly reputation."

Florida Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, also said she strongly opposes Amendment 2.

"It's going to be bad for Florida; it's going to be expensive for law enforcement," said Stargel, who doesn't face an election this year. "So I'll be actively working against it. Every time I have an opportunity to speak against it, I do."

Stargel voted for the so-called Charlotte's Web bill passed in this year's legislative session. That bill, signed into law by Scott, allows use of a non-euphoric, cannabis-based oil to treat childhood epilepsy and some other conditions.

Some supporters of Amendment 2 have said the Republican-controlled Legislature passed that bill to provide political cover and undercut support for the amendment.

Florida Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, whose district includes part of Polk County, said he favors Amendment 2. He said his position is colored by the experience of his grandmother, who died of cancer and was prescribed morphine in the final months of her life.

"I believe that cancer patients and other people with debilitating diseases should have additional options for treating these serious conditions," Soto said. "I'm sure (the issue) will come up when I'm campaigning for re-election, but I have not planned on giving any independent effort to promote the amendment."

NO TV BLITZ

Though Amendment 2 generates strong passions on both sides, it isn't likely to spawn a wave of TV commercials. Morgan, an experienced political operative, said neither campaign has the money it would take to mount a statewide TV blitz.

Amendment 2 could spur a higher turnout among young voters, who tend to skip nonpresidential elections. Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, surveyed college students about medical marijuana for an online column published in May.

In the informal poll, 85 percent of students said the presence of Amendment 2 on the ballot will draw "a lot more young voters" to the polls.

That's significant for two reasons, MacManus said: Turnout among young voters drops significantly in nonpresidential elections, and the highly negative gubernatorial campaign is likely to repel the under-25 contingent.

"It is true that some younger voters who could care less about the governor's race will vote on this issue," she said. "I'm not sure how big of an issue it's going to be with the bulk of the electorate, but, of course, it will be used in campaign ads and especially targeted Internet ads aimed at certain age groups because micro-targeting is so easy these days."

An above-normal turnout of youthful voters could be good news for Crist, as that group generally favors Democrats.

One older voter who supports Amendment 2 is Carl Strang of Winter Haven. Strang, 80, is a former chairman of the Libertarian Party of Polk County, though he now calls himself "a 'little L' libertarian." Many Libertarians favor full legalization of drugs.

"I'm all for medical marijuana, but I think it has to be restricted to those under 21," Strang said. "As I see it, this is just an intermediary step before we treat marijuana like we do alcohol: restrict sales to minors and regulate it and tax it. I don't know if it's intended that way, but that's the way I intend it."

[ Gary White can be reached at gary.white@theledger.com or 863-802-7518. He blogs about tourism at http://tourism.blogs.theledger.com. Follow on Twitter @garywhite13. ]

Seeking Relief: Advocates Say Medical Marijuana Could Ease Pain for Some With Chronic Illnesses

LAKELAND | Morgan Haas would like to pitch the patches and dump the pills.

Haas, a Lakeland resident, has an array of ailments, including type-1 diabetes, burst vertebrae in his lower back and three occurrences of thyroid cancer. He typifies the Floridians who say they would benefit from the legalization of marijuana for medical use.

That change will be a reality if 60 percent of Florida voters approve Amendment 2 to Florida's Constitution in the Nov. 4 general election.


Morgan Haas ,left a local representative from United for Care, the group pushing for Amendment 2, speaks at a meeting of the Central Florida Business Diversity Council. Morgan Haas and Miguel Valdez were the special speakers at the meeting in The Community Room at the Lakeland Police Dept. in Lakeland on July 23. (ERNST PETERS | THE LEDGER)

Haas is among several Polk County residents who recently said they support Amendment 2 because they or family members have chronic ailments with symptoms they think could be relieved by marijuana use. Some have used marijuana as a remedy in states where it is legal, and two acknowledged self-medicating with marijuana in Florida, even though that meant breaking current law.

Whether marijuana indeed carries the potential to relieve pain and other symptoms of diseases and disorders remains a matter of debate. Scientific studies of marijuana's effectiveness are limited in the United States because the drug is federally classed as Schedule 1, a category reserved for substances considered to have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

"There is no medical evidence that demonstrates that marijuana is a superior treatment (to current drugs) for any medical condition," said Dr. Sergio Seoane, a Lakeland family practitioner who strongly opposes Amendment 2. "There has been no major national medical organization in the United States that has expressed support for legalization of marijuana."

At least one Polk County doctor, though, said the anecdotal evidence is strong enough that if Amendment 2 passes he will recommend marijuana for patients with neurological disorders, epilepsy, muscular sclerosis, chronic pain and chronic muscle disorders. Dr. Alan Gasner, a Winter Haven internist, said marijuana could be a useful alternative to currently approved drugs.

"I'm not sure (opponents) understand that if you take the average 70-year-old in Florida, the number of substances people are on for their chronic illnesses -- they're on sleeping medications, pain medications, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, tranquilizers and just an enormous amount of things," Gasner said, "and perhaps the limited use of a single drug or the ability to get off some these of multiple drugs could occur if people were able to use medical marijuana."

Haas, the Polk County representative of United for Care, the main group campaigning for Amendment 2, said complications from illnesses and injuries cause "massive daily pain." He said he also is prone to seizures caused by anxiety.

As a result, Haas relies on a variety of prescription drugs. His daily regimen includes Oxycontin, a powerful pain medication, and Tizanidine, a muscle relaxant. He also wears skin patches that release Fentanyl, another pain reliever, and takes Klonopin, an anti-anxiety drug, along with insulin for his diabetes.

"I'm willing to take Dr. Carlton Turner's pledge to stop taking those medications when this (marijuana) becomes legal," Haas said, referring to the former Reagan Administration drug czar who serves as chairman of the Drug Free Florida Committee, a political-action committee opposing Amendment 2.

Haas, 33, said his passion for medical marijuana derives in part from the experiences of two uncles. One, an Ohio resident, died of esophageal cancer in 2012, and Haas said fear of breaking the law prevented him from trying marijuana to reduce his suffering. The second, a Florida resident, found relief from symptoms of Type 1 diabetes through marijuana use in the final two years of his life.

Last summer, while facing his third round of surgery for thyroid cancer, Haas began volunteering on a petition campaign to get Amendment 2 on the ballot. In February, he became a volunteer local representative of United for Care, a group created by Orlando lawyer John Morgan.

Haas said he devotes about 50 hours a week to the cause, working from the office of a Lakeland business whose owner supports Amendment 2. (The owner asked that the business not be identified.) Haas said he is not paid but receives some compensation for his expenses.

Noting that Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is the primary spokesman for the "Don't Let Florida Go To Pot" campaign, Haas said he has met many in Polk who support Amendment 2 but are afraid to be publicly identified with the cause.

"I've talked with hundreds of people who say they're not willing to come out and say it," Haas said. "When I first got this job, probably the first 25 people I spoke to told me, 'You're crazy. Grady Judd's going to be on you.'"

Haas said he has managed to find about two dozen residents who contribute to the cause in various ways.

Haas, who sometimes walks with a cane, said his current regimen of powerful pain medications disqualifies him from being considered for most jobs. If Amendment 2 passes, he said, he would be able to swap the prescription drugs for marijuana and perhaps start contributing to the economy.

On a recent morning, Haas stood in the community room at the Lakeland Police Department, making the case for Amendment 2 to the Central Florida Business Diversity Council at its monthly meeting. During a question-and-answer session, a woman in the audience stood to speak of how her first husband had been wracked with nausea caused by chemotherapy to treat his terminal cancer.

The woman said a doctor who was a family friend snuck her marijuana joints to provide some relief from the violent nausea.

"Pain is what is moving this cause along," Haas said. "It's not about politics; it's about sick people and patients."

NOT SEEKING A HIGH

Marvin Siefke, 62, has been plagued since his teens by Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and other symptoms. The Michigan native, a retired letter carrier, lives in Nalcrest, a retirement community for federal workers near Lake Wales.

He said his Crohn's symptoms have gotten worse in the past few years. His difficulty with eating and digesting his food has caused his weight to fluctuate by about 60 pounds. He is sapped by fatigue and suffers abdominal pain and has intermittent bouts of diarrhea and constipation.


Marvin Siefke holds a bag containing 15 pills of his daily medicine at his home in Nalcrest. Marvin has Crohn's disease, an immune disorder that causes pain, digestive problems and fatigue. He is a volunteer with United for Care, the group pushing for Amendment 2. He said others have had relief from using marijuana for Crohn's disease, and he would like to have that option. (PIERRE DuCHARME | THE LEDGER)

A bowel obstruction caused Siefke to be hospitalized in February.

There is no cure for Crohn's disease, and treatment options offer highly variable effects. Siefke said he has "tried everything," including steroids to reduce inflammation and opioid painkillers, but he said the medications offer limited benefits and bring sometimes nasty side effects. He now takes 15 pills a day, among them an anti-inflammatory and a drug to keep his intestines from suffering spasms.

Siefke said he has also experimented with every imaginable diet.

The ailment severely limits his social life. The frequent and unpredictable need for bowel movements prevents him from straying too far from a restroom at any time.

"I don't think a lot of people realize the pain and suffering a lot of these people are going through," Siefke said.

And people with Crohn's disease are just one subset of the American population with chronic pain, he said. He recalled the experience of his mother's best friend, who died of bone cancer.

"They gave her nothing but morphine," he said. "She was like a zombie the last year of her life. She didn't have any life left."

Siefke said it's time to give people in constant pain a new treatment option -- marijuana.

Some Crohn's patients in states where medical marijuana is legal have found it so beneficial they've been able to cease taking prescription medications, he said.

"I'm hearing more and more how it could be helpful," Siefke said. "I'm not looking for something to get me high. I'm looking for something to take care of my medical problems."

He said he has talked to fellow residents of Nalcrest, most of them 65 and older, and hasn't found anyone opposed to Amendment 2.

"Almost everybody there has had someone they know go through the end stages of something," Siefke said. "They've seen what the end stage with normal narcotics is. You're just laying there waiting to die. I think they really look at it (marijuana) as a natural remedy, better than something a pharmaceutical company could put out."

FINDING RELIEF

A Lakeland man with persistent pain caused by years of epileptic seizures says marijuana has "drastically" improved his quality of life.

"Kyle," who asked that his real name be concealed for fear of attention from law enforcement, said he smokes joints at least twice a week, sometimes more often.

The 28-year-old was diagnosed with epilepsy in middle school and began having seizures as often as three times a day. He said the seizures caused him to lose consciousness, putting him at risk of injury if he fell against a sharp object.

He began taking multiple medications prescribed by his doctor and continued taking the pills into his college years. But he said the medications brought no noticeable benefits and made him feel mentally and emotionally muffled.

"I was almost like in a zombie trance state," he said.

Those negative side effects interfered with his ability to do class work, and he said while in college he stopped taking the medications to be sure he could pass his classes.

The seizures caused violent muscle spasms that took a toll on Kyle's body. He said he sometimes regained consciousness to find his shoulder dislocated, prompting the need for a painful maneuver to put the joint back in its socket. After years of seizures, he said he has persistent pain in his shoulders and other parts of his body.

He said a friend suggested using marijuana for pain relief several years ago, and he soon noticed positive effects, including a reduction in the frequency of his seizures.

"I'm in a lot less pain," he said. "I can do more. I actually had some quality of life. ... There's no denying it (marijuana) is beneficial to people."

Kyle is self-employed in a computer-related job. Barring a change in marijuana laws, he knows he can't seek a job with any company that requires applicants to take drug tests.

He knows he could move to a state where the use of marijuana is legal, but he was born and raised in Central Florida and doesn't want to abandon his family and friends.

Kyle said he recognizes that he risks arrest every time he obtains marijuana.

"That's the scariest part," he said. "It's a risk you think about every time you do. Unless there's a lawyer fighting for your case, there won't be an article in the paper (explaining the situation). It will just be -- 'Man arrested for marijuana.'"

SECRET PRACTICES

Tammy Ross of Lakeland said there's an "underworld" of respectable Floridians breaking the law by using marijuana for medical purposes. Ross, 36, admitted she used to be in that group.

"I have diabetes and pain from diabetes, and I tried it, and marijuana is good for that," Ross said on a recent morning as she sat with other parents while their children took swim lessons at the Chain O' Lakes Complex in Winter Haven.

Ross she had to stop smoking marijuana when she began at a job that requires drug testing. But she said she knows many others in Florida who illegally obtain marijuana for themselves or family members.

"They're using it for arthritis and things like that," Ross said. "There's an underworld out there that's treating their kids and sick family members, mainly because of the price of medicine."

Ross said she knows one local family using marijuana to help treat their 8-year-old daughter, who has leukemia. She said she knows other families with seriously ill children who have moved to Colorado, where marijuana is legal.

Citing descriptions from her former supplier, Ross said, the population of Floridians using marijuana to self-medicate is much broader than many realize.

"You have soccer moms who are taking it; you have judges and lawyers taking it," Ross said. "You see professionals. You see everyday people."

Pointing to others seated beside the pool, she said, "It could be any one of these parents right now."

MOM WANTS OPTIONS

Jennifer Hughes' daughter, Dakotah, is 16, but in many ways she resembles an infant. Dakotah is "100 percent dependent": She can't speak or feed herself, and she wears diapers. Her mother said Dakotah can't even roll over without help.


JENNIFER HUGHES talks with her daughter, Dakotah, 16, who has Aicardi Syndrome as well as Wolf Parkinson White syndrome, at their Lakeland home. Hughes is a proponent of medical marijuana. (RICK RUNION | THE LEDGER)

On a recent morning, the girl sprawled in her large bed, her dark eyes seemingly unfocused as she gazed toward a TV screen mounted above her.

Dakotah was born with Aicardi Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder marked by a partial or complete absence of a segment of the brain that allows the left and right hemispheres to communicate. Among other health problems, the girl endures seizures on a daily basis.

Dakotah, who attends Doris A. Sanders Learning Center in Lakeland, a public school for students with "varying exceptionalities," has also been diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson White syndrome, a heart condition that can cause episodes of rapid heart rates.

Hughes, a teacher at Jesse Keen Elementary, said Dakotah is on four medications, and she worries about the side effects. One of the drugs, Hughes said, is known to cause severe liver damage.

Hughes posted a two-minute video on Youtube showing Dakotah having a seizure while lying in bed. She foams at the mouth, her head jerks and her arms flail wildly. Hughes added the headline: "CBD could prevent this seizure" -- a reference to cannabidiol, a compound in marijuana that proponents say has anti-convulsive effects.

Hughes, a single mother, said she knows some Aicardi Syndrome families who have moved to Colorado so they could legally give their children medical marijuana. She applauded the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott for adopting a law this year allowing the use of "Charlotte's Web," a cannabis-based oil proponents say helps prevent seizures.

But she said parents of people like Dakotah should be allowed to explore the full range of marijuana treatments.

"I definitely think it could open up more options for us," Hughes said of Amendment 2. "I see it as a way to open up so many doors for these children and adults. The bottom line is the quality of life."

Hughes is an ardent fan of rocker Jon Bon Jovi, and among the many mementoes on display in her home is a photo taken before a Bon Jovi concert in Toronto last November. The picture shows the singer smiling and leaning down toward Dakotah, who sits in a wheelchair wearing a T-shirt that quotes a Bon Jovi song: "I AM THE FIGHTER, THOUGH NOT A BOXER BY TRADE."

[ Gary White can be reached at gary.white@theledger.com or 863-802-7518. He blogs about tourism at http://tourism.blogs.theledger.com. Follow on Twitter @garywhite13. ]


LAKELAND POLICE LT. HANS LEHMAN shows the emblem of the national drug recognition expert certification he has earned. About 220 law enforcement officers in Florida have attained the designation (RICK RUNION | THE LEDGER)

Pot-Impaired Drivers Concern Traffic Police

LAKELAND | Will Florida be a more dangerous place to drive if voters approve Amendment 2, a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes?

And how will law enforcement authorities know if drivers are under the influence of marijuana?

Medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states, and studies have come to differing conclusions about the effects on traffic accident and fatality rates. A report from an agency overseen by the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy said traffic fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana increased 100 percent from 2007 to 2012. However, a recent analysis by Radley Balko of the Washington Post found a decline in overall traffic fatalities since Colorado legalized all marijuana use.

When it comes to enforcement, Amendment 2 will do nothing to change how officers go about detecting impaired drivers, said Lt. Hans Lehman of the Lakeland Police Department. Lehman is one of three LPD officers certified as Drug Recognition Experts, having completed specialized training offered by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The training is intended to help officers determine whether a driver is impaired and whether a drug or a medical condition is causing the impairment. If drugs are suspected, the officers are trained in determining what drug category is the cause.

Only about 220 officers in Florida have received Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) certification, and fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of law enforcement officers have received such training, according to IACP. The program has a competitive entry process, and applicants must have recommendations not only from their agency's top officer but also from an assistant state attorney in their area.

The program itself involves nine days of training and at least two days of exams, said Cape Coral Police Department Sgt. Allan Kolak, an instructor and regional coordinator with the group. Kolak said he expects a surge in the number of law enforcement officers taking the training if Amendment 2 passes.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office has eight DRE-trained deputies, a spokeswoman said.

SPECIAL EVALUATIONS

Measuring impairment from alcohol consumption is straightforward in Florida and other states. A driver suspected of impairment can be required to take a breath test, and a blood alcohol content reading of .08 percent or higher results in a charge of driving under the influence.

If a driver measures under .08 percent on the breath test, the arresting officer may call for one of the agency's DREs to come and lead further testing.

The evaluative process includes pulse rate, body temperature and blood pressure, as well as a check of pupils in different lighting conditions, Lehman said. Marijuana is known to cause "rebound dilation" in response to light shone into the eyes, a reaction in which the pupils constrict and then quickly grow larger again.

Officers also check for raised buds on the back of the tongue or a brownish-green coating on the tongue, Lehman said. The odor of marijuana, burn marks on the fingers and the presence of drug paraphernalia can also be considered.

"We don't just see one thing and go, 'That person's under the influence of marijuana,' " Lehman said. "We look at the totality of the investigation."

Lehman, an 18-year veteran with LPD, said the specialized training defines seven drug categories, and cannabis -- law-enforcement's designated name for marijuana -- is its own category.

Lehman said making a prosecution based on a charge of impairment caused solely by marijuana is more difficult than pursuing a DUI case with a blood alcohol content measurement above the legal limit.

A urine test can detect the presence of THC, a marijuana metabolite. Some states have established levels of presumed impairment based on the nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

TESTS CAN MISLEAD

Physical proof of impairment from marijuana is problematic because THC remains present in the body up to 30 days after the last ingestion.

"It's all unfortunate because if someone smokes at night to go to sleep and they wake up in morning and they're fine," said Karen Goldstein, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) of Florida. "They're no longer impaired after even six hours of sleep and yet it will still show up in your urine."

Florida and most other states have "effect based" laws, essentially meaning prosecutors use indirect evidence to prove impairment.

It is difficult to prosecute a charge of DUI based on suspicion of marijuana use alone, said Karl Grube, a Senior Judge based in Pinellas County. Grube said he has led training in a course called Drugged Driving Essentials for the National Judicial College.

Grube said it's a challenge even to seat a jury because so many candidates object to current marijuana laws.

"The second (challenge), of course, is establishing what chemical substance they were under the influence of," Grube said. "These cases get very complicated. What are the impairing qualities, and how do they manifest themselves? This is why it's so important to have expert testimony."

Brian Haas, chief assistant state attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit, said his office has gotten DUI convictions based on suspicion of marijuana use for drivers below the legal limit for alcohol. He said such cases are based on observations by officers.

"It happens," Haas said. "It's not very frequent."

Goldstein's organization supports Amendment 2, and she said there's no reason to think its passage would make Florida a dangerous place to drive.

"Amendment 2 does not condone, of course, impaired driving, and no responsible organization that promotes any kind of reform of marijuana laws would condone any kind of impaired driving, whether it's from cannabis, alcohol or prescription medications," she said.

[ Gary White can be reached at gary.white@theledger.com or 863-802-7518. He blogs about tourism at http://tourism.blogs.theledger.com. Follow on Twitter @garywhite13. ]

Q & A

Here are some of the questions surrounding the proposed Amendment 2 to the Florida Constitution and answers based on The Ledger's research.

Q. How did Amendment 2 get on the Nov. 4 ballot?

A. Orlando lawyer John Morgan spent about $4 million on a petition campaign that gathered 710,508 certified signatures, surpassing the state requirement of 683,149 signatures. The Florida Supreme Court reviewed the language of both the ballot summary, limited to a maximum of 75 words, and the full, 1,200-word description of the amendment.

The court voted 4-3 in January to approve placing Amendment 2 on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election.

Q. If Amendment 2 passes, what happens next?

A. If at least 60 percent of voters approve the amendment, the Florida Department of Health will be responsible for implementing it.

The department would have until early July to establish procedures for issuing patient identification cards and personal caregiver identification cards to residents who meet the amendment's qualifications. The department will also establish procedures for the registering a network of treatment centers.

The department would be required to begin issuing identification cards and treatment center registrations by early October 2015.

Q. Who would qualify to be a patient?

A. The amendment defines a "debilitating medical condition" to include cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV, AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease "or other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

Q. Who would be allowed to grow and sell marijuana if Amendment 2 passes?

A. The Department of Health would be responsible for determining those details.

Q. Is it true that law-enforcement officials oppose Amendment 2 because agencies derive much of their budgets from drug seizures?

A. That issue was raised in a recent article headlined "The Anti-Pot Lobby's Big Bankroll," published in The Nation, a left-leaning national magazine.

The article asserted seizures from marijuana grow houses as "a key revenue source" for law enforcement.

The article said a Florida law-enforcement newsletter described the state's marijuana eradication program as "an excellent return on investment," having gathered $900,000 in forfeitures last year.

Polk County Sheriff's Office spokesman Scott Wilder dismissed the idea that the agency gains much revenue from seizures at marijuana grow houses.

"Nine times out of 10, when we go to a marijuana grow house, we find marijuana and grow lights and we destroy both of them," Wilder said. "There's nothing really of value to seize. On a rare occasion, we might find cash or a vehicle to seize."

Wilder said the Polk Sheriff's Office obtained $138,000 through drug-related seizures in 2013, and he said the vast majority involved methamphetamine and pills. The agency has an annual budget of about $133 million.

Q. What groups have endorsed Amendment 2 or opposed it?

A. Those publicly opposing the amendment include the Florida Medical Association, Florida Police Chiefs Association, Florida Sheriffs Association and Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Those endorsing include the Service Employees International Union of Florida, the Florida Cannabis Action Network, CannaMoms and the Libertarian Party of Florida.

The Florida Bar Association has taken no position on the amendment. Neither has the Florida Police Benevolent Association, according to Nick Marolda, a union representative with the Lakeland Police Department.


Polk Community Forum on Medical Marijuana

Live Blog Medical Marijuana Forum
 

Should Florida join 36 other states that have loosened laws on marijuana use?

That's the question voters face in the Nov. 4 election. If Amendment 2 receives 60 percent of the vote, the use of marijuana will become legal for residents with debilitating diseases, as determined by a licensed Florida physician.

The Ledger is sponsoring a public forum on the issue

WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday, August 28

WHERE: In the auditorium of Harrison School for the Arts in Lakeland

The panel includes six people with a variety of views on the proposed amendment:

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd: Immediate past president of the Florida sheriffs association and a leading spokesman against the amendment.

Lawyer John Morgan: a leading proponent of the amendment.

Jeffrey Reddout: A Winter Haven psychologist.

Irvin Rosenfeld: A south Florida stock broker who has legally received shipments of marijuana as part of his medical treatment.

Dr. Sergio Seoane: A member of the Polk County Medical associa- tion's board of trustees.

Jessica Spencer: Statewide coalition direc- tor of the vote no on amendment 2 campaign.

Questions to be posed at the forum may be submitted to Amendment2@theledger.com through Monday. They will not be taken form the floor on the night of the forum.



Interviews: Grady Judd and John Morgan

Here is the transcript of the full interview with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd on Amendment 2:

The Ledger: How would you describe your role with the Vote No on 2 campaign?

Judd: By virtue of being president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, I am the public face for Florida sheriffs this year and obviously the Florida sheriffs have voted overwhelmingly to oppose Amendment 2. It is our firm belief that Amendment 2 is a wolf in sheep's clothing, that it's not about medicine for the very sick but it is legalization of smoked marijuana in the state of Florida. And because of that we are educating people around the state that there are loopholes large enough to float a battleship through in this constitutional amendment, and this amendment was specifically written with that intent. So I've written several op-eds; I've appeared before editorial boards. I've been on statewide television, and we will continue our education campaign.

The association can't legally go out and campaign for or against any amendment, but we can educate the community as to what the amendment says, and I as an individual sheriff can tell you that the people I've talked to that believe there may be medicinal value in marijuana, once Amendment 2 is explained to them, are clearly against that because once again no one has ever gone to a doctor and been given a medicine and told to go home and smoke it until you feel better. Smoked marijuana is not medicine, period, and Amendment 2 is about legalizing marijuana. And that's the education we want to communicate. Once we educate the community and they have all the information, certainly it's up to them to make a decision, whether or not they vote against Amendment 2 or vote in support of Amendment 2. That is their business, not ours, but it is our business to make sure they have the tools and the education.

The Ledger: What do you expect to do in the coming months as a spokesman for the Vote No on 2 campaign?

Judd: I anticipate as the campaign ramps up that we are going to do more and more because we want to educate the community. Think about this for a second: We have spent literally billions of dollars over the years talking about the health dangers of smoking cigarettes, and never has anyone gone to a doctor had the doctor say, 'Go home and smoke cigarettes till you get well,' and certainly the same is true with marijuana. Why would we want to do anything to advocate smoking marijuana, putting another foreign substance in your lungs, which is not in the best interest of your health and that's not the way medicine is prescribed? And to me it is offensive that this group of folks that are pro-legalization of marijuana would take advantage of the compassion, care and heartstrings of the state of Florida by leading well-intentioned people who certainly want to see sick people receive help into voting for something that is really about the legalization of marijuana. Really, Amendment 2 is just wrought with loopholes.

The Ledger: How do we know Florida would follow the example of California in adopting a "wild west" approach toward marijuana? Isn't it possible the Florida legislature would craft stricter regulations if the amendment passes?

Judd: It's been described -- not my words -- but it's been described that Florida's Amendment 2 is more liberal than California's law. And I talked to several lawyers who say there can be regulations created by the Department of Health, which is allowed in the constitutional amendment, but that no regulation can constrict the constitutional amendment, and the constitutional amendment has words in there like 'anyone' or 'anybody' can have access to marijuana. That 'anyone' includes children. It talks about a caregiver and it specifically says the caregiver has to be 21 and can have no more than five customers at any given time. Why do they lay a regulation out in that piece of it and not lay a regulation out in another piece of it? That means your caregiver can be a convicted felon or a dope dealer in and of themselves. So had this constitutional amendment truly been about medicine, they could have written it that way. They could have written it to have prohibited smoked marijuana; they could have written it specifically enumerating the diseases that with alleged, anecdotal evidence it has helped, but they didn't.

Along with the listing diseases they used these magic words, "or other conditions," and "other conditions" is not a debilitating disease, and therein is one of the huge loopholes. At the end of the day, you know and I know and everyone I've met with and explained this constitutional amendment to knows that this not about medicine for the very sick; it is about legalizing marijuana. It's a fraud, and they're trying to perpetrate it on the compassionate people of the state of Florida.

The Ledger: Would you favor a more narrowly worded version of the amendment?

Judd: No, and I say that because I don't know what they might write, but I don't believe a constitutional amendment is the vehicle by which such law should be implemented. I think it should follow the process of Charlotte's web (a cannabis extract used for childhood epilepsy and other conditions) -- just passed the legislature and received the governor's signature. Certainly as you saw with Charlotte's web, that compound does not have the intoxicant or has a very, very low percentage of the intoxicant, but it has cannabinoids that will help, and the legislature saw the potential value in that and crafted a very tightly written law that was signed by the governor. And that's the exact example of how medical use of marijuana should be instituted. But did you see one of the pro-marijuana people supporting that endeavor? I didn't. You know why? Because they're not supporting medicine; they're supporting the legalization of smoked marijuana.

The Ledger: The passage of the Charlotte's web law is another dimension of this debate. Do you think that law is sufficient? Proponents for Amendment 2 say it is directed toward a narrow subset of the population and not enough to help all those in need.

Judd: It's important to point out, first off, the proponents for smoked marijuana don't have any science on their side of the debate. They have anecdotal evidence; they have urban legend; they don't have science. The AMA is against it, the Florida Medical Association is against it; the Ophthalmology Association is against it; the (American) Cancer Society is against it. But they (proponents) so fear that the responsible actions of the legislature are going to diminish their efforts to legalize smoked marijuana that they criticize what is a responsible first step. [Editor's note: Many proponents have said the Charlotte's web law is helpful but doesn't go far enough.] The legislature didn't say they wouldn't go further; this is just the first step the first year.

But clearly as this campaign goes forward, you see more desperation by the pro-marijuana folks because they fear that the responsible, well-meaning people of the state of Florida will get the education and understand that, 'Wait a minute, medicine doesn't come in smoked form.' So how can it be medicine if you can't even measure the dosage? This Amendment 2 doesn't measure the dosage, it doesn't talk about THC level (Tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis). It doesn't restrict -- in fact, it allows smoking so that tells you it's not about medicine at all. They are using those that are severely medically sick to lead their argument because there have been those that use marijuana in that form who anecdotally say they received some relief. But there are ways to get to the same result, and you don't smoke it and you don't put in cookies and candy bars and lollipops in unknown and uncontrolled dosages. That's not only bizarre, that's a ridiculous thought, that that would be thought of as medicine, and it clearly isn't.

The Ledger: But advocates for Amendment 2 say it's impossible to do controlled medical studies of marijuana because it's an illegal substance.

Judd: That's what they say because they don't have anything valid to say. There is studies out that been done on marijuana that clearly indicate smoked marijuana is of no medical value. And they say that because the science is not on their side, and it's only a lame excuse they can figure out to use of why there is no science on their side. The reality is there is no science on their side because the science is to the contrary. Smoked marijuana has no medical value.

The Ledger: Proponents of Amendment 2 accuse you of exaggerating the harmful effects of marijuana and using "Reefer Madness" scare tactics. How do you respond?

Judd: When confronted with facts and the truth, those without valid arguments to the contrary always raise those same issues. They have no valid evidence to support smoked marijuana, period. This is about a money grab, it's about a multi-billion-dollar industry. We can see the businessmen already circling the state, getting ready to open their pot shops and their pot distributorships. When you look at what we looked at -- we looked at Orange County, California, and looked at the number of pot dealers and extrapolated that using our population we're going to have 50 pot shops, if we have no more or less per capita than California, and at the same time only have 31 McDonald's. So we're going to have more pot shops than McDonald's restaurants? Oh, my gosh. All in the name of medicine? And it's just all a fraud.

This is not a political position. When the governor of California says recreational use of marijuana is not good, when (Democratic Congresswoman Debbie) Wasserman Schultz down in Miami tells you the same thing -- people are now beginning to take a look around. The Miami Herald did a poll (in July) in Dade County. Dade County is majority registered Democrats, and Amendment 2 failed in Dade County. Why? Because they get it. They know this is not about medicine. When you take that off the board, that it's not really about medicine for the very sick, that Amendment 2 is written with loopholes so people can have smoked marijuana, it fails. And when education is presented to the people of the state of Florida, it fails.

The Ledger: Are you confident then that as the campaign goes along that the support shown in early polls will evaporate?

Judd: The support (for Amendment 2) in the early polls for the most part was a fiction to begin with. They would ask a question such as, 'If your physician or your doctor wrote a prescription for medical marijuana for the very ill, would you vote for it?' and people said, 'Well, of course,' because they want to help those very ill and in significant pain. First off, your doctor can't write a prescription because it's against the law, and second, it's not just for the very ill or the very diseased, so it was not an accurately worded question, and quite frankly that one poll that showed an ultra-high response -- that was fishy on its face. Eighty-eight percent of people in the state of Florida can't decide at any given time whether to go to the bathroom or not.

They're pushing out this skewed data, this polling, hoping people will say, 'What the heck?' and give up. And it's one more opportunity to take advantage of people. What our education perspective is -- we're not trying to talk you out of the potential medical benefits from some of the derivatives of cannabis. But what we're telling you is Amendment 2 is not about that. It's not about medicine for the very ill; it's about legalization of marijuana, clearly, and the amendment is written with the loopholes to allow that. So that's what we're saying. If those same lawyers had written a very tight, very constricted constitutional amendment -- even though that's not my preferred form -- for the medical use of marijuana, there wouldn't have been this educational campaign saying, 'Wait a minute, folks, they're trying to dip you. They're trying to get you to do something that you don't need,' and that's the feedback I've gotten from those who are very sensitive to those that are very sick, who otherwise would have voted for that amendment if they thought it was just for the very sick, but it's not, it's absolutely not that way.

The Ledger: Something like 20 states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana. Have you talked to officials in other states about their experiences with medical marijuana campaigns?

Judd: Yes. What we've found out is in many states there was not a robust educational campaign in advance, and the unintended consequences they're dealing with are overwhelming. And I think those unintended consequences would be even worse in Florida because one of the big loopholes in the constitutional amendment talks about how your physician, nor a person who grows the marijuana, can be held criminally or civilly liable, so if this amendment were to pass and you were given a recommendation for marijuana for medical purposes, and doctor gives you a recommendation, you go to your caregiver and he gives you this marijuana and it makes you very, very ill, or for some reason some chemical on it kills you, there is no civil ability for you or your heirs to recoup from those damages or injury. In the real medical world, your doctor would be liable, the pharmacy would be liable or the manufacturer of the medicine would be liable, the deliverer of the medicine. But if you end up with a severe illness from smoking this marijuana, you can't even sue anyhow who injured you with it. That should be enough to stop even those folks from other action. So who ends up with the liability? Who ends up being sued? Well, the business owner whose person is intoxicated with this marijuana that wrecks a forklift or runs over somebody in the business vehicle. They get sued. They're left holding the bucket.

So at the end of the day, it's not good for the business people of Florida because they are going to be the ones ultimately that are sued for the bad issues that occur because their employees were operating vehicles or machinery under the influence of drugs. In addition to that, people say, 'Well, I'll vote for that.' It's easy to vote for something you can turn around and walk away from, but one unintended consequence -- and I've not found anyone yet who wants to pay more taxes -- is this is going to cost a lot of money to enforce if it passes. The unintended consequences -- somebody out there someplace is going to be sentenced to prison or jail, and they're going to get one of these quack, pill-mills docs that are now pot docs to give them a recommendation for marijuana, and of course the jail or prison is going to refuse it and then the government entity is going to be sued in federal court. And guess who's going to pay for that? The taxpayers. And if the government doesn't prevail, then the taxpayers are going to pay for the marijuana that's given to the person in prison.

There are all kinds of issues that attach to this amendment that folks must think about. It's not just flipping a lever one way or the other and walking way. It's the unintended consequences and unintended costs. And it's going to be massive. And yes, I've heard, "Well, we'll tax it and recover the costs." The black market is still going to operate and will operate cheaper than the government-approved marijuana.

It is full of problems, and the devil is in the details. We could go on for hours talking about all the unintended consequences. But when you get down to the lowest common denominator and you realize this is not about medicine for the very ill, it's about dope -- that's about as simple as we can make the message and as complex as the message needs to be made.

The Ledger: Are you bothered at all that the main financial supporter of Vote No on 2, Sheldon Adelson, is an out-of-state casino magnate?

Judd: My response to that is, even those that own casinos know that Amendment 2 is a bad bet for Florida.

Here is the transcript of an interview with John Morgan, founder of United for Care, the main organization pushing for passage of Amendment 2.

The Ledger: Critics say Amendment 2 is just a ruse to open up Florida for legalizing recreational use of marijuana. What do you say to that?

Morgan: It can't be opened up for recreational use unless the Florida Legislature passes it and the governor signs it, and I don't see that happening. I think that the ruse is his objection. It's not an objection; it's just a red herring. That can't happen unless the Florida Legislature allows it to happen, and that would be because the people of Florida would want it to happen and the governor would sign it, and I don't see that happening. Instead of dealing with the merits, he throws something out there that has nothing to do with the debate and is more of a scare tactic than a good argument.

The Ledger: Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and other critics say the amendment is vaguely written and full of loopholes and will result in kids being able to get pot without their parents' knowledge. How do you respond?

Morgan: First of all, it's not vague. The amendment itself lists the type of illnesses this is meant for -- ALS, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer. It lists the type of illnesses that are debilitating. You can't list every one because you don't know every one. You may miss one, and a new one may come up. What I would say to Grady Judd is I trust the doctors of Florida to give our people what they need and their patients what they need. I trust the doctors understand, reading what the statute says and the type of illnesses we're talking about, to understand what the word "debilitating" means. Doctors are some of the smartest people I know. I think the word "debilitating" is pretty easy to understand, especially taken in the context with the language in the amendment.

Now, as far as children getting marijuana -- children now are being prescribed OxyContin. OxyContin kills 16,000 people a year and hooks hundreds of thousands. I don't know what child is going to the doctor without their parents driving them. I don't know if Grady Judd's children go to the doctor without him and his wife, but mine don't. I've never had one of my children go to the doctor by themselves. Now, maybe Grady's get on a bicycle and when they have an injury they ride up to the doctor and the doctor prescribes medication for them. I guess maybe his children are different than the rest of Florida's.

The Ledger: Critics say there is a lack of scientific evidence that marijuana has medicinal value. How do you respond?

Morgan: One thing we know for a fact is we've heard from millions of people who have talked about it working. But the most compelling fact is we know big Pharma, they know it works because they have a pill called Marinol. Why do they make this pill called Marinol? They made it because they know of the benefits of marijuana. They just can't get it to work in pill form; it only works in vapor or smoke or edible form. Why can you buy a pill called Marinol if it has no medicinal value? Who is selling this pill called Marinol if it has no medicinal value? The proof is in the pudding, and the proof is in the pill. The problem is the pill is not potent. So what Grady Judd and his crowd would like us to do is wait around for one of the big pharmaceuticals to find a way to make it in pill form so they can make billions of dollars, when all we need to do is go out in the yard and cut a plant and roll it up and it works.

I would tell him go to the special "Weed" by Sanjay Gupta -- "Weed 1" and "Weed 2" -- and let Sanjay Gupta explain to him the science of marijuana and why it works. I would ask Grady Judd if he's ever sat down to watch those two specials. Has he ever seen what's going on in hospitals in Israel? We don't have it here because nobody's allowed to do it in America. It's a (Schedule) 1 narcotic, for God's sake. There's no studies in America because they're not allowed do it. They may not be doing it in the USA, but they're doing it somewhere. You can't do it because you'd get arrested for doing it. They say, "Hey, why don't we have any studies in America?" They don't because we're not allowed to.

The Ledger: Why do you think so many in law enforcement are so strongly opposed to Amendment 2?

Morgan: I don't think they really are. I think it's political. I think they think they're supposed to be against anything with the word "drug" on it. I think it's the same reason (Florida Attorney General) Pam Bondi miscalculated. I would say to Grady Judd: You've got a lot more important things to do than tracking down people using marijuana to fight their cancer. Go shut down all the pill mills in Polk County, and once you've got that done maybe you can go arrest people using marijuana to help them w their ALS and multiple sclerosis.

It's just a reflex: "I'm an elected official." The problem for Grady Judd is they all knee-jerked on this before they thought it through politically. There's big-time, law-and-order Republicans who are going to vote for this. There's (Florida Senator) Don Gaetz, who is one of the most conservative members of the Senate, the President of the Senate. He confessed years ago, in 1985, when his best friend, a Methodist minister, was dying, nothing worked. Don ran hospices, and Don went out and got marijuana illegally. He broke the law, and why did he do it? Because he's a compassionate man, and he loved his friend. So Don Gaetz, my prediction is he's going to vote for it when the booth closes. And my prediction is most of Grady Judd's deputies are going to vote for it because they know they've got better things to do than chasing down people taking marijuana for their AIDS.

The Ledger: What do you expect from opponents of Amendment 2 in the final months of the campaign? Do you expect to see them running TV commercials?

Morgan: There'll be some. It's not really going to be enough money. The state of Florida is too big for any kind of meaningful television campaign. Even (Democratic gubernatorial candidates) Charlie Crist and Nan Rich are going to have trouble having enough money to pierce through. This is a state -- I think we have seven (TV) markets. I think there may be a lot of money spent but not enough. It's going to be a drop of water in the middle of the ocean, in the grand scheme of things. If somebody spends $3 (million), $4 (million), $5 million, it doesn't mean anything, not in the state of Florida. At the end of the day, people have pretty much made up their minds on this issue, and at the end of the day people are compassionate and they're going to do the compassionate thing. No TV ads are going to be able to scare them off.

The Ledger: How do you respond to the claim that you only pushed to have the amendment on the ballot to boost turnout by registered Democrats in an off-year election?

Morgan: First of all, when I was doing this -- and I've heard that I wanted to do it because of Charlie Crist -- the first thing I will say is, I like Charlie Crist and I want Charlie Crist to be our next governor, but I don't like Charlie Crist $4 million worth. I never thought Charlie Crist would be running for governor when I started this thing. All these pieces fell into place. I did it because I believe in it, because I believe you can't sit by and know something and do nothing, especially if you have the wherewithal. So for those people who say that -- I never thought it would get on the ballot. I thought I was more likely to have it on the ballot for 2016 because I didn't start (the petition campaign) till last year. Those people who say that give me a lot more credit than I deserve.

The Ledger: What do you think are biggest misconceptions or untruths being used against Amendment 2?

Morgan: I think the biggest is that there's no scientific proof it works, because there is. There's just no scientific proof in America because you're not allowed to do it. I think the things I hear most commonly -- number one, it's a gateway drug. My answer to that is, "Yes, it's a gateway drug, and the next drug is morphine at the hospice." We're talking about people who have crippling diseases, and most often terminal: ALS, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, cancer. These are terminal illnesses. When I hear talk about a gateway drug -- listen, when Don Gaetz went and got marijuana for his friend in the hospice, he didn't care about breaking the law, and the next drug was morphine and they put you on a slow drip and speed it up till you die.

They (opponents) always want talk, you'll hear people talk about the children. That's always interesting to me -- "Children can get their hands on it." That's the same argument people who want to have gun limits use, children are going to get their hands on guns. That's a bad argument. What I say to people is, "You need to lock up your medical marijuana in your gun cabinet," and then the kids can't get to the guns or the marijuana. They say things, you'll hear, "Doctors are going to give the children marijuana." Well, doctors are giving children Percocet. They're giving children morphine. Doctors aren't going to give children marijuana. What doctor? And isn't the parent going to sit there and watch it? Is a 10-year-old going to go to the doctor's office and get prescribed marijuana and then gets on his bicycle and goes to the dispensary? When you start to think through their arguments, you realize they're scare tactics. "It's a gateway drug. No science." I know this: Everybody who uses it says it works.

The other thing I would say -- another thing they talk about is, "This is going to be California." It's not going to be California. The way it's enacted is the way it will be. There's 20 other states that have it now. Nobody ever hears anything about those other states. The reason they don't is it was enacted in a totally different way from California. Look how tight the enactment is on Charlotte's web already. Just because this happens doesn't means it's going to be California. Tell them go take a look at Arizona. Nobody talks about Arizona. The reason that's scare tactics is look at how they have enacted Charlotte's web. There's only going to be five growers; the dispensaries are going to be regulated. There may only be five people involved in Charlotte's web. In California, you don't have to be doctor to prescribe it. In California, you don't have to have a card, you just go in. In California, you've got psychologists prescribing; it. In Florida, you've got be a medical doctor. What I would say to Grady Judd is -- Don't go to California and look at something that's got no application. Look at what's already been done in Florida by our legislature with Charlotte's web, and then when you get tired of looking at that go out and look at Arizona. And when you finish looking at that, look at all the other states that you never hear about because they were all enacted differently than California.

Just like Charlotte's web -- it doesn't just happen all the sudden that you've got head shops up and down the highway. Ask the businesspeople in Lakeland how hard it is to get a permit to move a wall. You can't even move a wall in Lakeland unless you get a permit, and that takes months. The enactment process comes from Tallahassee. Now, if the people in Tallahassee want to allow it to be like California, OK, but I don't see that happening. The California arguments are arguments made by people who want to scare, not debate.

The Ledger: Some voters might not realize that constitutional amendments have to get 60 percent of the vote, not just a majority. I was talking to Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor at Florida State University, and he said that's a tough threshold to reach. What do you think?

Morgan: I think 60 percent is a landslide in politics. Lance is correct. They made it 60 percent because they wanted it to be a landslide. I think as you get closer -- I've seen (polls showing support) as high as 88 percent; that's not going to happen. I think as you get closer it will get tight, but at the end of the day, most of us have grown up around marijuana. We're not afraid of it. We know anecdotally, and we know from studies and we know from the Dr. Guptas of the world, we know it works. And we've got friends -- look, I've got my brother (who was paralyzed in an accident decades ago). My brother, if he took the medications they wanted him to take he'd be a zombie. His spasms would be uncontrollable. I don't need to have a study done. I see it every day. Lance is right; it will get closer, but it will pass, and when it does by 60-plus percent, it will be a landslide.

The Ledger: So you're confident the amendment is going to pass?

Morgan: I'm confident it's going to pass because I believe in people and I believe the people are compassionate. Cancer and ALS and multiple sclerosis and AIDS do not pick political parties. This is not a political issue. This is an issue of compassion and medicine. You're going to have Tea Party people, Libertarians are going to vote for this in droves. They're offended by the government trying to tell us what we can do and waiting on Big Pharma to figure out Marinol. The Tea Party and Libertarians are offended by that notion. They're going to vote for this, and they're going to vote against everybody else I'm going to vote for.

The Ledger: So you see it as something that can cut across party lines?

Morgan: Yes, because cancer does not pick political parties or people. Cancer and AIDS and ALS comes at everybody.

Comments from Polk county Residents

"I worry about my kids being around other kids that might introduce them to (marijuana). So yes I believe parents are kind of skeptical because of that. Drugs already seem to be a problem with kids.... I guess I really haven't sat down and thought about it. I guess it feels like it doesn't affect me."
"My personal opinion is our legislature should do the job, and we shouldn't have to alter our constitution to do simple things that are basically specific to a small group of individuals. ... To me, it's special interests clogging up the constitution."
"My concern is the kids. just like how kids get in your medicine cabinet and get your medicine - it will be like grandmother's narcotics. They will get it and sell it on the street. If they can keep it locked away from the kids, that will be good, but there's no guarantee of that."
"I went to the forum (in March at Polk State College). When (Sheriff) Grady Judd spoke, hardly anybody clapped. When (supporters spoke), they just roared. It scared me to death. I thought, 'I'd better get out of here.' They weren't for Grady, so I think the darn thing's going to pass. I just hate to think about that. ... Some in assisted living, they're in electric wheelchairs smoking cigarettes so I know they're going to get that (marijuana). All they have to do is whine to get it."
"I've heard it on the news - just that they're going to put it on the ballot. I haven't really decided. ... I did have cancer and had chemo and nausea. I lost all the saliva in my mouth, and now, I have a lot dental of problems. I haven't talked with anyone on chemo now. I'm for anything that helps people. ... They'd probably be against it in our age group because I would think they think you might get a habit, get addicted. ... If my doctor thought I should (use medical marijuana), sure I would."
"I'm personally planning on voting yes on the amendment. I have several friends who are completely against it, but I think the idea of just accepting it as a medicine is a lot more acceptable for younger voters than it is for older voters. ... The frequent consensus I get from most of my friends is they don't really care, and if it's going to be put to good use it might as well be accepted in society. It's, 'Well, I don't like it; I don't really partake of it, but it can be used for people with diseases that might benefit from it.'"
"I think it's a very safe assumption to make that younger voters are more likely to approve of anything pertaining to marijuana use, whether it be complete legalization or legalization for a medical purpose."
"We have a lot of younger students that have seen family members go through that and are on the same page, that it should be legal. I think younger people will favor it only because they're more open to it. ... We have a lot of older people who won't because they grew up in a different era."

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About This Series

Day 1: Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether Florida should join other states in allowing medical marijuana. How did Amendment 2 become an issue in the state? Who is the push behind it? Who is against it?

Day 2: The politics of medical pot crosses party and generational lines.

Day 3: What workplace issues would medical marijuana raise?

Day 4: How would the law deal with drivers who use medical marijuana?


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