Passionate medical marijuana debate at the University of Tampa

02/25/14 Samuel Johnson
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

photo by Samuel Johnson (2014)

In November Floridians will vote on the polarizing issue of whether to legalize the use of Medical Marijuana. On Monday night about 500 people packed a sports auditorium at the University of Tampa for a lively debate full of rhetorical antics.

The debate was for the most part civil and informative, but at times devolved into back-and-forth mud slinging. Medical marijuana supporter and prominent attorney John Morgan accused Kevin Sabet of fear mongering. Sabet directs the University of Florida Drug Policy Center and he’s a medical marijuana skeptic. Sabet responded to Morgan with barb of his own.

“(Morgan) please don't talk about California one more minute; please don't talk about trojan horses. (Sabet) well please don't attack my character.(mediator third voice) Doctor. (Morgan) It's not your character it's your expertise. You make money going around selling fear. (Sabet) absolutely not. (Mediator) Gentleman. (Sabet) I make my money selling fear? You chase ambulances and make millions of dollars, John. (Morgan) What do you do at the University of Florida? (Mediator) Gentleman, both of you. (Morgan) What to you do for the University of Florida? (Mediator) Gentlemen.”

The dust settled long enough for more serious review of facts and policies on both sides. The other medical marijuana opponent, Eric Voth is a physician from Kansas who specializes in pain management. Voth has advised the last three presidents on drug issues. He said smoked marijuana is not medicine.

“The reality of it is that smoked pot is not medicine. There is no other medicine that is smoked out there. And one thing that the marijuana lobby has done is to blur in your mind is the issue of cannabinoids for medical uses and cannabis which is marijuana. Keep in mind we are talking about cannabinoids, which can be identified...which can be synthesized...that can be used as medicine, versus smoked pot.”

Allen St. Pierre is executive director of the National organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML. He supports the medical marijuana amendment and said there are other delivery methods of medical marijuana other than smoking it.

“We certainly agree that if you can put medicine in a sublingual spray like GW Pharmaceuticals has or a suppository...those will be fun, huh?...thermal patches, eye drops, ear drops. All of these things are coming on the market and they could well dislodge people smoking marijuana. And NORML is not against that at all. But we want to stop patients who are using vegetable matter with their doctor's permission to stop being treated like criminals. And we thank Mr. Morgan for creating this argument in this state. And it's going to make this state the 23rd medical marijuana state.”

Amendment opponents are concerned that children could get easy access to medical marijuana. The University of Florida professor, Kevin Sabet, said the wording in the medical marijuana ballot amendment is dangerously vague.

“Anyone with a conscious to have our loved ones to get what helps them. But when you start, actually what is what I believe the Garvis Poll, which I just saw. When you start reframing the question about, Amendment 2 will allow children to get marijuana, for any reason without parental consent, that support goes down to 33%. When you ask them; Amendment 2 will allow for an adult with moderate lower back pain, or a headache to get it, then that support falls dramatically.”

The legal recreational use of marijuana ended in 1937 with the federal Marihuana Tax Act. It became a schedule I substance, like heroin, under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The only attorney on the panel, John Morgan, said the current marijuana laws are antiquated and seeped in racism.

“And Reefer Madness stood for the proposition that African-American men would seduce white women with marijuana and take the white woman from the white man. That is where these laws came from; laws that you're talking about. They've been on the books since the movie Reefer Madness (1936). And the madness is; we're sitting here in the year 2014 still relying on the drug czar who went in and was scared to death by reefer madness.”

Very sick people confront an ethical dilemma whether to benefit from the therapeutic qualities of marijuana when faced with the stark reality that it’s still illegal in Florida. Ryan Roman has been battling spinal and brain cancer for 9 years and uses medicinal marijuana. He said he’ll be glad when it’s legally available.

“I will be able to now go to the doctor and tell him my ailments. He'll be able to verify that. And then I will have the opportunity to be able to go an purchase the medicine that I need and not have to be in fear of going to jail for it. Everything that I have done now for the last years, I've done looking over my shoulder and I've been a patient the whole time. I consider this medicine.”

Florida law requires 60% of the vote to adopt a constitutional amendment.

Listen to the full debate here:

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Smokin and Smokin... for the people's weed! I think that part of the problem is that a lot of these anti-pot people have never actually tried pot. Teresa, the woman on Norman B's show said she had not tried it because she was worried it would harm her future children. What?! Pot isn't going to damage your genes! Jesus Christ, WTF?!