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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Politics

Medical marijuana forum brings smiles from advocates, ire from opponents


Published:   |   Updated: March 31, 2014 at 08:31 PM

TALLAHASSEE — Democrats and Republicans put on a united front for medical marijuana at a Monday night issue forum, but the lack of “the other side” unsettled Tampa’s leading antidrug crusader.

“You can’t set a policy by just listening to parents that are saying they think something’s going to help their children,” said Ellen Snelling, chairwoman of the Tampa Alcohol Coalition and the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance.

“As a state, we have to set policy based on real science and research,” said Snelling, who drove from Tampa to Tallahassee to attend the forum. “And we need more research on cannabis.”

The forum, moderated by political commentator Justin Sayfie, featured Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

Clemens has filed medical marijuana bills for four years in a row; Gaetz is sponsoring a bill in the House this year to allow a non-euphoric strain of medical marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web.”

Parents say the strain brings relief to children who suffer from violent seizures.

Edwards said marijuana also can ease the symptoms of many other illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, which involves the nervous system, and Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disorder.

Snelling, in an interview, countered that the evidence for marijuana as medicine is more anecdotal than clinical.

“I’d rather have another year to discuss this and research it,” she said. “I think it’s kind of rushing this legislation.”

Advocates, however, say families with sick children can’t wait.

“There are a lot of drugs out there that kill people, and marijuana isn’t one of them,” Clemens said.

Gaetz said federal law stymies efforts to involve the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in marijuana growing and clinical trials.

As North Carolina has the “Research Triangle,” Florida could have a “Cannabis Corridor,” Edwards said.

Two efforts to legalize or decriminalize medical marijuana are moving simultaneously in Florida. One is a proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this November.

Critics, including Republican lawmakers, say the language is too broad and will lead to “the Coloradofication of Florida, where the end game is a pot shop on every street corner,” as House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, put it.

The other is a proposed state law. The House bill would provide legal defenses for marijuana use, among other provisions.

The Senate bill goes further, allowing for a medicinal marijuana “dispensary” system. It’s sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park.

Selling marijuana is still a federal crime, although the Obama administration has suggested that federal prosecutors not pursue people, particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use medical marijuana in compliance with an existing state law.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Last week, a south Hillsborough County woman was visited by child abuse investigators over a complaint that she is giving her 12-year-old brain-damaged son a medical marijuana derivative.

Renee Petro of Fishhawk says the substance is a legal hemp oil that helps control her son’s seizures.

jrosica@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

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