As petition drive to put medical marijuana on 2014 ballot gains steam, debate over legalization heats up
By K. Chandler
Should the state of Florida legalize medicinal marijuana?
That rhetorical question drew well over 400 people to Palm Beach State College, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2103 for what was dubbed: “The Great Debate”.
Moderated by Randy Schultz, Editor of the PB Post’s Editorial Page, the debate squared off with Kevin Sabet, co-founder of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) calling for more research on marijuana and stating that Florida’s Medicinal Marijuana ballot initiative was little more than a “smokescreen” to expand drug legalization. Acknowledging that criminal statutes pertaining to marijuana possession needed “improvement,” Sabet never-the-less said that legalization was “a step too far.”
Sabet warned that the U.S. was ushering in another era of Big Tobacco that would result in the blanketing of America with medicinal marijuana, as well as unrestrained marketing to children. “After 80 years of lies and deceit, just wait ‘til it [Big Tobacco] gets its hands on legalized marijuana,” he cautioned.
“The question voters should be asking themselves before voting on these initiatives,” said Sabet is this: ‘Is your right to buy pot from a store down the street worth the risk of increased teenage drug abuse, increased enforcement action by the feds and increased problems like ‘stoned driving?’”
Countering, Aaron Houston, Executive Director of the Washington DC – based Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said that the prevailing evidence points to the fact that “the drug war has failed,” and “part of that was the prohibition of marijuana.”
“We’ve ruined young peoples’ lives by locking human beings up in cages,” Houston said, adding that it was counterproductive “to saddle people with records” that prevent them from “going to college and obtaining good jobs.” Meanwhile, Mexican and Columbian cartels are obtaining “60 percent of their profit from marijuana alone,” with the tentacles of the cartels stretched across cities all over America, he noted.
As far as research on marijuana goes, Houston pointed out that cannibis has been one of the most researched substances in modern history. Backing up that assertion, it has been reported that since 2008, over 15,000 articles have been published regarding the chemical breakdown and pharmacology of marijuana. Other major epidemiology studies have concluded that there is no connection between marijuana and lung cancer or marijuana and COPD.
“The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said in 1989 that marijuana is one of the therapeutically safest sub-stances known to mankind,” stated Houston, adding that legalizing marijuana would provide an effective medical treatment for cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma, among other medical conditions.
Currently, 20 states and Washington DC have passed laws allowing citizens to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. If a ballot initiative is successful in Florida, voters may make Florida the 21st state in 2014.
According to Sabet, if medicinal marijuana were to be approved by Florida voters in 2014, “anybody for any reason – for a minor backache or head-ache — can get a joint under the guise of medicine.”
“I believe, and science has shown – the marijuana plant has medicinal value, but in a non-smoke-able form. Take components of that plant and deliver it in a safe way like a pill or a patch” or an oral mouth spray, eliminating the high effects that are associated with cannibis, and then dispense it through a pharmacy, said Sabet. “Since we don’t smoke opium to get the effect of morphine, why should we smoke marijuana to receive its therapeutic effects?”
If Sabet and SAM (which was co-founded with former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy), have their way, marijuana-based pills would be dispensed by pharmacies, replacing and eliminating local dispensaries.
“Let’s do it the right way through pharmacies, not through these dispensaries which are really just store fronts with dope dealers in front of them. We closed pill mills be-cause they weren’t proper. Why has marijuana taken the pill mills’ place?”
Houston countered by saying that Sabet’s argument was disingenuous since “one is killing people in record numbers while there’s no evidentiary record of the same with marijuana.
Cannibis is being depicted “as one of the most dangerous drugs out there, implying it’s as dangerous as heroin,” said Houston. The truth is marijuana “never produced overdose deaths. Opiate pain medications are the biggest sector killing people” and causing accidental poisonings and car accidents, he pointed out.
Unlike California, Houston noted, Florida’s medicinal marijuana ballot initiative would task health care agencies with regulating and overseeing the distribution of medicinal marijuana. “We can tax it, regulate it and take it out of the hands of criminals and put it in the hands of our government.
“Because marijuana is minimally processed and easy to grow, makes it so prevalent to be grown. It should be regulated like alcohol, not tobacco. Tobacco is regulated very differently from alcohol. Let’s let states decide, with local control left in the hands of the community, which essentially knows how to do it best, not Big Tobacco.
Sabet isn’t nearly as convinced.
“If marijuana were legal it would become cheaper and therefore easier to obtain, especially for young people. Because marijuana is easier to grow and harvest than alcohol or tobacco, these store front dealers could easily evade paying taxes on their profits.”
Issuing a warning to Black and Latino communities, Sabet made note of the fact that there are “eight times as many liquor outlets in poorer communities of color,” ensuring that these communities would also be heavily targeted by advertisers if medicinal marijuana were approved.
For his part, Randy Schultz made note of the fact that a state agency completed a review as mandated with amendment petition results growing, that there would be 1.6 million Floridians who would be eligible for the medicinal marijuana with between 175.000 and 450,000 availing themselves of medicinal marijuana once it became legal.
Currently, a constitutional amendment petition form, initiated by Orlando attorney John Morgan, is being circulated throughout the state with 683,149 validated signatures needed before the amendment can be placed on the Nov. 2014 ballot for the public to vote on. At that point, 60 percent of Florida’s voting populace must approve the measure for it to become law.