Residents speak out to Pinellas legislators about marijuana and Medicaid

01/27/14 Samuel Johnson
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Tags: Pinellas County, Medicaid, marijuana, Weed, Jeff Brandes, Larry Ahern, medical marijuana


Republican State Representative Larry Ahern

photo by Janelle Irwin File Photo 2012

On Monday the Florida Supreme Court approved language for the medical marijuana constitutional amendment. Since last week it raised enough signatures, it will be on November's ballot.

Two supporters who signed up to address the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation didn’t show up to their meeting Monday in Largo. But one opponent, pharmacist Larry Golbom, said marijuana might be as dangerous as alcohol.

“The reality is that marijuana is not a good thing. And they're seeing the damages from their perception of what marijuana can create. And that's my perspective. I think we need and educated society to understand; where is marijuana going to fit into our society as we move forward? We haven't done a very good job with alcohol. So, we can actually learn from what we...interacted with alcohol. I mean, alcohol was glamorized. That's how it became legal. I think we are seeing the glamorization of marijuana right now. I don't feel comfortable with that.”

The proposed amendment doesn’t allow recreational marijuana use. Republican State Representative Larry Ahern, said under specific and well defined guidelines, medical marijuana is in Florida’s future.

“Yeah, I don't think any members that are not for the medical aspects. As we heard in the testimony for this lady with the seizures; for certain glaucoma types; you know, eye diseases; for certain cancer treatments. Absolutely. If we define it clearly what the uses were going to be, I think you'd find a lot of support for that.”

Protesters lined the driveway into the education building where lawmakers gathered. They waved signs urging the delegation to support Medicaid expansion. The problem: some people earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but they’re often too poor to pay the monthly premiums through the Affordable Care Act’s exchange. Kofi Hunt, an advocate for Medicaid expansion, says local representatives need to quit stalling and pass an expansion bill.

“The House needs to bring a bill to the floor and they need to vote on it. Actually, the Senate voted on a bipartisan bill and the only person who voted against it was actually one of our local state Senators: Jeff Brandes. So we just need to get Jeff Brandes to get with the party and vote for working families to have health care. And we need the Will Weatherford and the House to let a bill come to the floor; let it to be voted on so that the people of Florida can be taken care of.”

Til Vogeler is one of those people who finds himself in the gap. He said the Pinellas County Health program has all but forgotten him.

“I mean, right now I am part of the Pinellas County health program. But the Pinellas County health program just leaves you in limbo. And that's pretty much where I'm at.”

The Federal government will help fund an expansion of Medicaid. Yet, some Florida politicians are still reluctant to accept the money. Before the meeting Representative Larry Ahern, said Florida won’t succumb to Washington’s bullying tactics.

“Give us the money; the States the money and let us manage our medicaid program. And if we can expand it then we will. But to just say; to just hold us hostage, as it were. To say; 'If you do that we'll give you this.' You know; that's not the way we like to do business

At Monday's meeting Republican Senator Jeff Brandes was elected chair of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation. He succeeds outgoing chair Ahern.

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