The designated hitters in Florida’s aggressive medical marijuana debate squared off Monday at the Bradenton Women’s Club, each asking the audience to "read the amendment."
"What we're here for is to get down to the language in the amendment," said Dr. Jessica Spencer, coalition director of Vote No on 2 and a former project director for the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Spencer said loopholes in Amendment 2 will make marijuana easy to obtain, contain no age restrictions and will lead to abuse.
"This is one thing I agree with Jessica: read the amendment," said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, which advocates medical marijuana to control conditions such as epilepsy, chronic pain and cancer."What this is about is sick and suffering Floridians who are recommended to use [medical marijuana] by their doctors," said Pollara, a founding partner of LSN Partners, a broad-based consulting firm in Miami.
Amendment 2 will require at least 60 percent approval by voters Nov. 4 to become law.
“They want you to think this is about the sick, this is about the debilitated," Spencer said. "What they don’t really want us to focus on is the loopholes. It’s there.”
Spencer said caregivers will not be required to have medical training or a pre-existing relationship with a patient. Pollara said the state "Department of Health will issue regulations regarding exactly what a caregiver can be and who qualifies for that."
Spencer said the amendment offers no instructions regarding minors.
“Out of the 23 states that Mr. Pollara is referring to that have medical marijuana laws, do you know that we’re the only state to put forth language that doesn’t have an age restriction?" Spencer said. "Every other state put in an age restriction but ours.”
Pollara said 417,000 Florida patients would benefit immediately by making medical marijuana legal.
"A lot of these folks have tried everything," Pollara said. "And the drugs that their doctors have given them either don't give them relief or they bring them relief but also bring side effects that are just as bad as the conditions they're actually suffering from."
Cathy Jordan of Parrish, who suffers from ALS, was with her husband, Robert, and participated in a question-and-answer session for the audience, which numbered roughly 100.
“One of the reasons she is [alive] today and a champion of this cause, both she and her husband will tell you, is she smokes marijuana every single day,” Pollara said.
Before the noon event, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, about 30 volunteers in pro-medical pot T-shirts were staked out on Manatee Avenue, waving “Vote Yes on 2” placards at passing cars.
“We want doctors and patients to make the decision on medical treatment, not politicians,” said Luigi Costello of Sarasota, a volunteer for United for Care who had a spot in the shade on a sidewalk. “It’s about compassion.” A Florida medical marijuana industry reportedly has the potential to generate $800 million a year, second only to California.