Fla. Medical Marijuana Petition Pushes For 2014

Aug 7, 2013

Michael Derigo arrived home from a trip to the gro­cery store June 25 to find half a dozen police cars sur­round­ing his mobile home in Gib­son­ton. A neigh­bor had com­plained about his mar­i­juana plants. Since he was diag­nosed with AIDS in 2004 and started on drugs to sup­press it, Derigo, 59, has grown mar­i­juana plants and juiced the leaves to drink. Unlike smok­ing dried leaves, he said, it doesn’t get him high. “I’ve been able to keep my weight on where I’ve seen oth­ers just shrivel up and die,” he said. Derigo has pleaded not guilty to pos­sess­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing mar­i­juana. His lawyer, Michael Minardi of Stu­art, who spe­cial­izes in such cases, plans a med­ical neces­sity defense. “The war on drugs is a war on the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” Derigo said. “Peo­ple some­times do less time for mur­der than for mar­i­juana.” Cases such as his have led to a new peti­tion drive to put a pro­posal on the 2014 bal­lot to legal­ize med­ical use of mar­i­juana in Florida. Sim­i­lar efforts have failed before, but this one is backed by a new level of legal and polit­i­cal mus­cle — mainly from trial lawyer John Mor­gan of the Mor­gan & Mor­gan firm, a major Demo­c­ra­tic polit­i­cal fundraiser. With his help, the United for Care cam­paign group has crafted a bal­lot pro­posal and hired peti­tion gath­er­ers. Asked how much he’s will­ing to spend, Mor­gan, who’s known for seven-figure con­tri­bu­tions to char­i­ta­ble and polit­i­cal causes, said sim­ply, “As much as it takes.” He plans to start run­ning radio ads later this year; news­pa­per sto­ries on the pro­posal have already drawn scores of vol­un­teers, he said. But the pro­posal could face high-powered oppo­si­tion, pos­si­bly involv­ing Repub­li­can polit­i­cal fundraiser, shop­ping cen­ter mag­nate and for­mer ambas­sador Mel Sem­bler of St. Peters­burg. Sem­bler and his wife, Betty, are the founders of the char­i­ta­ble Drug Free Amer­ica Foun­da­tion and a related pub­lic edu­ca­tion group, Save Our Soci­ety from Drugs, which can act in polit­i­cal causes. Calv­ina Fay, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Drug Free Amer­ica, said dis­cus­sions are start­ing on legal and polit­i­cal strate­gies against the ini­tia­tive, but she didn’t want to go into details. Asked whether he’ll be involved, Sem­bler would say only that if an oppo­si­tion group “gets orga­nized, I’ll make that deci­sion then.” Betty Sem­bler couldn’t be reached for com­ment. Mor­gan has a per­sonal inter­est in the cam­paign. His brother Tim, now 55, is a quad­ri­plegic as result of an acci­dent when he was a teenager and uses mar­i­juana to con­trol mus­cle spasms. Their father, who had esophageal can­cer and emphy­sema, used it for nau­sea before his death. His father “was just in agony, nau­se­ated, sick,” Mor­gan said. “He was one of these guys who said, ‘Don’t smoke, don’t do drugs,’ but Tim said try it. Overnight he was able to sit up and eat meals. He was able to enjoy life. It made his last days more rest­ful and calm.” Con­trol­ling the spasms enables Tim to work for Morgan’s firm, he added. “This isn’t Cheech and Chong,” Mor­gan said. “This is peo­ple who have ALS, bone can­cer where the pain is unre­lent­ing, MS where their body is with­er­ing away. It wasn’t party lights and strobe music with my dad and brother. It was just peace and lack of pain.” Ben Pol­lara, a vet­eran South Florida Demo­c­ra­tic polit­i­cal strate­gist promi­nent in the Hillary Clin­ton and Barack Obama pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and in Alex Sink’s 2010 guber­na­to­ri­al­run, heads United for Care. He and Mor­gan said their pro­posal is crafted to allow only tightly con­trolled, med­ically pre­scribed uses of mar­i­juana, pro­hibit­ing home grow­ing and and with­out con­tribut­ing to recre­ational use — which crit­ics say has hap­pened in other states. The poten­tial for abuse will be a sub­ject of debate in a ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, promised Fay. But before that can hap­pen, the orga­niz­ers face a tight dead­line to get the pro­posal on the bal­lot. They need peti­tion sig­na­tures equal to 8 per­cent of the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion vote, or 683,149, ver­i­fied by local elec­tions super­vi­sors by Feb. 1. Allow­ing for invalid sig­na­tures and time for ver­i­fi­ca­tion, that means get­ting nearly 1 mil­lion by early Jan­u­ary, Pol­lara said. Paid peti­tion gath­er­ers charge $3 per sig­na­ture, but vol­un­teers will sup­ply some, Mor­gan said. Another hur­dle is state Supreme Court approval of the amend­ment. Under the state Con­sti­tu­tion, amend­ments pro­posed by cit­i­zen peti­tions, unlike those pro­posed by the state Leg­is­la­ture, must deal with a sin­gle sub­ject. The court inter­prets that require­ment strictly and has often used it to throw out pro­posed amend­ments. The two-page mar­i­juana amend­ment, which can be viewed at the www​.unit​ed​for​care​.org, lists med­ical con­di­tions for which mar­i­juana may be pre­scribed; exempts it from manda­tory insur­ance cov­er­age; requires that the state Depart­ment of Health reg­u­late dis­pen­saries pro­vid­ing mar­i­juana and related prod­ucts; and sets up a sys­tem of state iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards for pre­scribed users and their des­ig­nated care­givers. Pol­lara said he hopes to have 10 per­cent of the nec­es­sary sig­na­tures — the num­ber required for Supreme Court review — in about a month. He and Mor­gan took over a smaller-scale effort launched by a cit­i­zen activist, Kim Rus­sell of Orlando, but decided to replace the amend­ment the group was push­ing, ditch 30,000 sig­na­tures, and start from scratch. “When we first met, John said this was not going to be a free-for-all, defacto legal­iza­tion — it has to be a tightly con­trolled sit­u­a­tion,” Pol­lara said. They hired Uni­ver­sity of Florida law school pro­fes­sor Jon Mills, a for­mer state House speaker whom Mor­gan called “the best con­sti­tu­tional lawyer in the state,” to rework the amend­ment with an eye toward Supreme Court approval. Using money left over from a polit­i­cal com­mit­tee he ran last year, Pol­lara com­mis­sioned a poll that found sup­port for the mea­sure topped 60 per­cent, Florida’s thresh­hold to pass a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment. An orga­nized cam­paign could cut that level of sup­port, but it would require sub­stan­tial spend­ing for adver­tis­ing and voter out­reach, said Fred Pic­colo, a Repub­li­can polit­i­cal strate­gist. Fay, with Drug Free Amer­ica, said there will be a legal chal­lenge to the word­ing before the Supreme Court and a cam­paign against the mea­sure if it gets on the bal­lot. She called med­ical mar­i­juana “a scam” intended to lead to legal­iza­tion for recre­ational use. It’s dan­ger­ous, she con­tended, because users, already sick, risk ingest­ing an unreg­u­lated sub­stance sub­ject to con­t­a­m­i­na­tion whose com­po­nents and effects haven’t been rig­or­ously stud­ied. “Just because some­body says it makes them feel good, where do we draw the line? Crack cocaine?” Fay said. “We once had peo­ple ped­dling crude oil as a med­i­cine in this coun­try. Think of Laetrile — it was a dis­as­ter,” she said, speak­ing of the can­cer treat­ment banned as poi­so­nous in most states. There’s already an FDA-approved drug that includes the most sought after ingre­di­ent in mar­i­juana, tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol, or THC, Fay noted. But advo­cates say this drug is a poor sub­sti­tute, and other ingre­di­ents, notably cannabid­iol, or CBD, pro­vide some of the most impor­tant ben­e­fits with no psy­choac­tive effect. Some grow strains rich with CBD but low in THC. “We get emails from peo­ple all the time say­ing they were pre­scribed Mari­nol but couldn’t afford it, or it gets them stoned, whereas one or two puffs of mar­i­juana doesn’t get them stoned and alle­vi­ates the symp­toms,” Pol­lara said. Mar­i­juana user Derigo said his method of juic­ing the leaves calms nau­sea that would oth­er­wise pre­vent him from eat­ing, which would start the “down­ward spi­ral” of “AIDS wast­ing syn­drome.” It also eases pain from nerve dam­age caused by shin­gles that struck while his immune sys­tem was depressed. For­merly a qual­ity con­trol engi­neer, Derigo hasn’t worked for sev­eral years. He can’t afford the syn­thetic opi­ates pre­scribed at pain clin­ics, even if he wanted to take them, and the county health depart­ment, which pro­vides his AIDS treat­ment, doesn’t give him any­thing effec­tive for the nau­sea, he said. Minardi, his lawyer, said he has han­dled about a dozen med­ical mar­i­juana cases and has half a dozen pend­ing. Pros­e­cu­tors recently dropped charges against one, Robert Jor­dan of Par­rish, charged with grow­ing mar­i­juana for his wife, who’s con­fined to a wheel­chair with ALS. Nearly all his mar­i­juana clients are over age 50. There have been sug­ges­tions that Mor­gan, who hopes to back for­mer Gov. Char­lie Crist in a 2014 race against Gov. Rick Scott, hopes the amend­ment cam­paign will spur turnout of young and lib­eral vot­ers likely to oppose Scott. In response, Mor­gan said, “I started think­ing about this way before I knew that (Crist) would be in this posi­tion. I don’t think med­ical mar­i­juana is going to moti­vate an 18-year-old. Legal­iz­ing it might.” Mor­gan is right, accord­ing to offi­cials with the Mar­i­juana Pol­icy Project, an advo­cacy group for legal use of mar­i­juana that has par­tic­i­pated in sev­eral med­ical use and legal­iza­tion cam­paigns. “Legal­iza­tion ini­tia­tives do seem to have an impact on young voter turnout, at least based on exit poll stud­ies, but we haven’t seen the same dynamic on med­ical mar­i­juana issues,” said polit­i­cal direc­tor Steve Fox. A 2012 study found “a sig­nif­i­cant boost” in youth turnout in elec­tions on legal­iza­tion mea­sures in Col­orado in 2000 and Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton in 1998, he said, but there’s been no indi­ca­tion of such an effect in the 2010 vote in Ari­zona on med­ical use. It passed by a razor-thin mar­gin, 50.1 per­cent to 49.9 per­cent. Copy­right: 2013 the Tampa Tri­bune (Tampa, Fla.) Source: Huff­in­g­ton Post (NY) Author: William March, The Tampa Tri­bune Pub­lished: August 5, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 Huff​in​g​ton​Post​.com, LLC Con­tact: scoop@​huffingtonpost.​com Web­site: http://​www​.huff​in​g​ton​post​.com/

8b7532b7d9637612.jpg 150x112 Fla. Medical Marijuana Petition Pushes For 2014

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Fla. Med­ical Mar­i­juana Peti­tion Pushes For 2014

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