Florida Fight Begins Over Medical Marijuana Initiative

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Marijuana was sold legally in Florida for the first time last week since it was outlawed by the federal government in 1937. In a staid Tallahassee storefront more akin to a doctor’s office than a head shop, Dallas Nagy, suffering from chronic seizures and muscle spasms, plunked down $60 for a non-euphoric strain of marijuana at the opening of Trulieve, the first medical marijuana dispensary in the state, reports the Orlando Sentinel. The milestone, hailed by legalization activists, some doctors, owners of pot nurseries and the parents of children with debilitating ailments, is the beginning of Florida’s battle over marijuana laws. Groups on both sides of the medical marijuana debate are battling it out over an amendment on the November ballot that would give access to marijuana with higher levels of THC the chemical that creates a user’s “high” for a wider range of illnesses.

Anti-drug activists and law enforcement say the amendment would lead to de facto legalization of the drug. Amendment 2, as it will appear on the ballot, makes patients with “debilitating medical conditions” eligible – a vague term ripe for abuse, they say. “It’s unlimited, so if you have headaches a doctor could say marijuana could alleviate your headache,” said Christina Johnson of Drug Free Florida, a group fighting the amendment. Along with “debilitating conditions,” the amendment states that patients with glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis would be eligible for medical marijuana. The fight over Amendment 2 is drawing big bucks on both sides. Drug Free Florida got an $800,000 contribution from Carol Jenkins Barnett, daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery chain. The group has about $1.7 million. On the other side is United for Care, a group funded and promoted with the help of Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, which rounded up signatures to get the amendment on the 2016 ballot. A similar effort in 2014 failed, getting 57 percent of the vote, 3 percent shy of the 60 percent required to pass. A Quinnipiac poll in May showed 80 percent support for the amendment among likely voters.

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