Medical Marijuana

BY MELISSA MAHLER, Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — The Weekly Challenger spoke with Ben Pollara, the Campaign Manager at United for Care, the main organization advocating for the approval of Amendment 2, which is whether to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.

Medical Use Marijuana, healthToday 23 states and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation legalizing medical marijuana. The battle in Florida hasn’t been an easy one despite mounting evidence supporting the use of marijuana in the treatment of certain medical conditions.

Who Can Amendment 2 Benefit?

Amendment 2 defines a debilitating medical condition as cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.

“The diseases and the conditions for which the use of medical marijuana would potentially be beneficial in treating are wide-ranging. The ones we think of immediately are cancer and HIV/AIDS because anybody that has any personal experience with marijuana knows that it has a sort of appetite stimulation properties,” said Pollara.

One of the benefits that have recently come to the forefront is the use of marijuana in the treatment of epilepsy and other severe seizure disorders. Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN reported about a child named Charlotte who was having 300 seizures a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana he said has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.

Dr. Gupta wasn’t originally a supporter of medical but has very publically apologized and is now an advocate for the legalization of marijuana.

Nearly 17,000 Americans overdosed and died from prescription painkillers in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to Dr. Gupta, someone dies in the United States every 19 minutes from a prescription drug overdose, mostly accidental reports.

“Every 19 minutes. It is a horrifying statistic. As much as I searched, I could not find a documented case of death from marijuana overdose,” he averred.

“I have been saying for a long time and a recent study supports my view that to the extent that Floridians and Americans in general can use anything, whether it’s marijuana or anything else in replacement of dangerous narcotic drugs like Percocet and OxyContin, opiates, Xanax and other benzodiazepines, that will save lives and it is also a good thing for our society,” said Pollara. “The study that came out showed that with medical marijuana laws on the books, opiate related deaths decreased by almost 25 percent.”

Safeguards

The language of Amendment 2 looks a lot like what was voted on in 2012 in Massachusetts Pollara contends.

“We also took a lot of lessons from the pill mills crisis and tried to craft a law with enough built-in safeguards that didn’t require any further implementation to create a pretty strong system of rules and regulations that make sure that this was only for medical use and included a multi-step process to become a qualified patient under the law,” said Pollara.

Those multi-steps to becoming a qualified patient require being diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition by your doctor, receiving a certification from your doctor and submitting it to the Florida Department of Health and obtaining an ID card from the state.

What It Doesn’t Do

Amendment 2 applies only to Florida law. It does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.

The proposition states that nothing in the amendment shall authorize the use of medical marijuana by anyone other than a qualifying patient or affect laws relating to non-medical use, possession, production or sale of marijuana.

Opponents of Amendment 2 have stated that it will allow kids to legally get marijuana without their parents’ permission. Pollara says that’s simply not true.

“Florida law requires parental consent for medical treatment. There is almost no circumstance in which a physician would treat a minor in a non-emergency circumstance without explicit legal guardian or parent consent. Amendment 2 does not repeal or address or is inconsistent with current parental consent laws, they remain on the books,” stated Pollara.

He compares the prescribing of marijuana to other prescribed drugs.

“There are no age limits on pharmaceutical drugs. It’s up to the doctor and up to the parent and we believe that should be the same for marijuana. The parental consent is very much a part of our law and nothing in Amendment 2 changes that,” said Pollara.

About United for Care

United for Care was originally called PUFM: People United for Medical Marijuana. Kim Russell, a stay-at-home mom from Orlando founded it in 2009.  Her father was sick and the treating physician thought he would benefit from medical marijuana but it was illegal. Russell and her husband invested their money and time in trying to pass an amendment to the Florida constitution to allow for the use of medical marijuana.

Pollara conducted a poll to see if it has support in Florida and the poll results that came back were tremendous. He called and introduced himself to Russell and told her she could win according the poll he conducted.

Since then, Pollara and prominent Tampa attorney John Morgan, with Russell’s consent, have decided to carry the torch to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.

Pollara says vote yes

“The number one reason why people should vote yes,” Pollara said, “is the basic proposition that in the course of the doctor-patient relationship, if a doctor recommends a type of treatment to a sick and suffering patient, that patient should be able to follow their doctor’s orders without having to be a criminal.”

Approval of 60 percent or more of Floridian voters is required to pass Amendment 2 and Pollara believes that’s exactly what will happen when the ballots are counted next week.

Please visit unitedforcare.org for more information.

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