A state budget crunch that won’t quit, legislative reapportionment and gaming are expected to crowd the legislative season that starts in Tallahassee Tuesday — but for some, nothing has quite the same buzz as an effort to allow the medical use of marijuana.
It’s the second year in a row that legislation has been filed to start Florida on the path that 16 other states and the District of Columbia have taken, starting with California in 1996. And this year represents the first time that a bill allowing marijuana as a medicinal has been filed in both the House and the Senate.
For some from the home of “Gainesville Green” — a celebrated strain of marijuana — and the recently revived Hemp Fest — including those who have served jail time for being a “Doobie Tosser” — this legislation can’t come quickly enough.
House Joint Resolution 353 and Senate Joint Resolution 1028 propose that the question of allowing marijuana for medical use should appear on the 2012 ballot as a statewide referendum. If approved by at least 60 percent of the voters, the state constitution would be amended.
Never mind that neither of the bills has been scheduled for hearings. Jodi James, executive director of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, is, well, elated.
“This is the first time since 1978 that cannabis advocates will have a sustained presence in the Legislature,” said James, explaining that her Melbourne-based group has launched a website, www.fldecides.org in the effort.
Even more than advocating for the proposed legislation, James’ group is planning on petitioning Gov. Rick Scott, asking him to urge the Legislature to pass a bill that bypasses the constitutional amendment process and allows medical marijuana use in Florida.
“Sick and dying people need access to this medicine now,” James said.
But Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, calls the proposed legislation “a sham.” Drug laws might need to be revamped, but allowing the use of marijuana under the guise of medical treatment is not the way to do it, he said.
“Let’s address the bigger issue and have a debate about that,” he said.
On the streets of Gainesville working as an undercover narcotics investigator, former Gainesville Police Deputy Chief Mike Jones said he has started thinking that marijuana ought to be legal. Pro-marijuana organizers say Jones might be one of the witnesses who legislators hear from in the upcoming push.
“When I came out of the undercover assignment in my first year at GPD, I was convinced that marijuana would be legal in the next five years, “ said Jones, who now lives in New Mexico and has gotten marijuana as medicine from Veterans Affairs doctors for his post-traumatic stress disorder. “I couldn’t see the threat anywhere near what prohibitionists were claiming.”
And working in his next assignment — patrol — convinced him even more, he said.
“I never had a problem with anyone who had been smoking marijuana — they were easy to deal with, often funny,” he said. “On the other hand, though, when there was drinking, people two and three times my age wanted to fight me and offered to do all kinds of vile things with me.”
Before retiring from the police department in 1991, the Marine combat veteran from the Vietnam conflict started to come in contact with others who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, like him.
After retirement, he moved to Sedona, Ariz., where the drug was more readily available. He said he’s stopped all intoxicants for the last six months, to be more in keeping with his Buddhist practices, but he’s willing to be part of a speaker’s bureau in favor of medicinal marijuana use that’s more controlled than California’s model.
“It’s saved my life,” he said, “more than once.”
But medical thinking has not caught up with the practice. And Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, medical director of the Florida Recovery Center and chief of the Division of Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida, calls medical marijuana a farce.
First of all, no doctor concerned about his patient’s health would recommend a drug that is delivered by smoking. Not only is it harmful, it delivers an imprecise dose, he said.
“California has been a disaster,” he said.
He’s quick to point to the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s white paper on the issue: “Rigorous research is needed to better understand the significance of different cannabinoid formulations and ratios, methods of administration and dose-response relationships. Cannabis has a range of effects, some of which may be disturbing to patients with serious medical conditions…”
But state Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said that what started as a courtesy filing has become a cause for her, after she started looking into it. Her belief that it should pass stems from 1) wanting to de-glamorize it for young people who are looking to do something illegal, and 2) the medical relief it offers to those who need it. And it’s good for the state budget, too, she said.
“The state spends $288 million of effort due to the prohibition of marijuana,” she said, adding that it could also be a source of tax revenue.
Scott Camil, a Gainesville anti-war activist who founded Veterans for Peace in 1987, said that marijuana not only helped him cope with the post-traumatic stress he brought back from Vietnam after serving there as a Marine combat soldier, it opened up his mind.
It was all part of his education at the University of Florida, said Camil, who is featured in a six-minute University of Florida film, “Gainesville Greens.”
“I never imagined it would be illegal this late,” he said, shaking his head. “I know plenty of people in positions of authority who have smoked marijuana — professors, teachers, doctors.”
Hemp Fest organizer Dennis “Murli” Watkins has served time for marijuana infractions, mostly, he says, from a Hemp Fest “doobie-tossing” that distributed some 3,000 joints to revelers at one 1995 event. It earned him the nickname “doobie tosser.”
“It’d be hard to find a white man who has smoked more marijuana than me,” said Watkins, who helped cultivate Hemp Fest for this past November after it had been dormant for 11 years.
He said he’s 100 percent disabled from his experience as a combat soldier in Vietnam and finds that marijuana is a spiritual plant that allows its users to see society’s lies.
Watkins said his daily routine of smoking medicine-grade marijuana starts soon after he has his first cup of coffee — something to help him cope with the stress of caring for his 84-year-old mother.
But he’s surprised his 16-year-old daughter didn’t want to attend the event that he said attracted 1,000 people downtown. Police estimated the attendance at more like 300.
“She said, ‘Why would I want to hang out with a bunch of potheads?’” Watkins said of his daughter’s reaction to the suggestion that she attend Hemp Fest.
– Article originally from Herald-Tribune.