LARGO — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a fierce opponent of the medical marijuana ballot measure in November, says he supports a bill filed this week in the state Legislature to legalize a medicinal form of the drug.
State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed the The “Florida Medical Marijuana Act,” on Monday. His bill is more specific about which types of doctors would be allowed to prescribe the drug than was the referendum calling for a state constitutional amendment. That specificity is what led Gualtieri to support Brandes’ proposal, the sheriff said at a news conference Wednesday.
The bill is a starting point, Gualtieri said, but not perfect. The sheriff doesn’t favor a provision allowing marijuana in a smokable form, which he said would lead to social use of the drug.
“Very few people are going to be sitting around on Saturday night thinking, ‘Oh my God, let’s sit here with our strobe lights or whatever and let’s get oil and rub it on our hand,’” he said. “No, they want to smoke it; so if we take smokable off the table, we’re taking the recreational.”
Gualtieri, who chairs the Florida Sheriffs Task Force and shepherds Florida Sheriffs Association initiatives before the Legislature, said he hopes to work with Brandes to improve the bill. He said he opposed the marijuana amendment not based on the concept but its content.
“Something having to do with medical marijuana doesn’t need to be in the Florida Constitution. It took about $4 million and about 700,000 signatures,” he said. “Anywhere that laws are passed, they don’t always get them right, and sometimes they have to go back and tweak them. There’s no going back, because once it’s in the Constitution, it’s done.”
No one should deny the medical benefits of THC, a primary ingredient in marijuana that has been created synthetically for use in other drugs, Gualtieri said. Nor, he added, is there doubt many Florida residents support the medical use of it. The 2014 referendum needed 60 percent of the vote to pass, and failed when 58 percent supported it.
Gualtieri said he wants to make sure restrictions are in place so only people who have legitimate needs are able to gain access to prescriptions.
“I don’t want to see anybody suffering; and frankly if somebody is on their death bed, I don’t care what they take to alleviate the pain,” he said. What the sheriff said he doesn’t want to see, however, is people using marijuana recreationally – under the guise of using it to eliminate pain.
A provision in the bill that would require two physicians to sign off before a person under 21 could access the drug would help prevent the drug from falling into the hands of minors, Gualtieri said.
The bill also states that prescribing doctors will need to take an eight-hour course and pass an examination given by the Florida Medical Association or the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association.