Wednesday June 29, 2005

What happened to the Florida Medical Marijuana Referendum?

[Contributed by Glenn Allen]

As you may know, ten states have passed voter referendums to allow the usage of medical marijuana. California’s voters passed proposition 215 in 1996. And even though the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the Federal Government making it illegal under federal law, it has been a reality in California for almost ten years. Thousands of seriously ill patients have been able to alleviate their suffering using marijuana that was prescribed by a licensed physician.

As Associate Director of the Coalition Advocating Medical Marijuana (CAMM), I saw first hand the plight of patients who had to obtain their medicine illegally. We’re talking about sick and sometimes dying patients fighting for their lives. It’s not a pretty sight. But can we look the other way when so many are needlessly suffering over a simple health care issue? What is the basis for all this hysteria surrounding marijuana? If it wasn’t safe and effective medicine would doctors in 10 states, 25% of our nation, not to mention other counteries, including Canada, routinely prescribe it?

In 1997 a Political Action Committee was formed and legally binding Florida Medical Marijuana voter petition was filed in Tallahassee. CAMM initiated a statewide campaign to gather signatures. 150,000 signatures of registered FL voters were needed to get the initiative on the FL ballot. I personally travelled across the state with fellow CAMM board members, Kevin Aplin and federal medical marijuana patient Elvy Mussika. Elvy is one of seven federal patients left under the Compassionate Use Act. She suffers from glaucoma and the University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute was instrumental in the her winning her case. She receives her medicine monthly from the federal government in the form of big tin full of 300 (yes, 300) rolled marijuana cigarettes or “joints.” Why 300 you ask? The federal marijuana that is grown at University of Mississippi in Biloxi and is very low in THC. It includes seeds and stems. That’s why she has to smoke 10 joints a day. If she had high grade, potent marijuana she would only have to take a few puffs every hour or so.

This is the our government’s Compassionate Use Act at work, a program that was ended under the Bush Sr. administration. While new patients applying for the program were denied, the ones already in it we’re grandfathered in. Only 7 people in the entire U.S. remain who are allowed to use marijuana medicinally under federal law.

Now can you picture me driving to every county in Florida in my beat up car with Elvy, a nearly blind woman, with her tin of 300 joints, collecting signatures and signing people up to collect signatures at every stop along the way? Every day, five days a week we would hold a press conference at a different county seat announcing the FL Medical Marijuana Referendum. All the local media, the newspapers and tv, would be there as well as patients, activists and vocal opponents. Elvy would smoke a joint on the courthouse steps and pandemonium would ensue. Thank God, Elvy was only arrested once and that was in Dixie County by some local cops who had to call D.C. to find out she really was legally prescribed to use marijuana. But that was not the case with hundreds of patients we came in contact with. Their stories would break your heart. A Multiple Sclerosis patient who was severely debilitated, routinely harrassed and arrested by the police. Withering away AIDS patients not able to afford buying their medicine on the streets but not being able to keep food down without it. A seriously ill woman who’s husband was arrested for growing a few plants for her on their land in rural Fountain, FL hung herself after he went jail and there was no there one to care for her. And then they tried to seize their land!

Regardless of your stand on the illegal use of drugs, sick and suffering patients should be able to obtain their medicine legally by prescription from their doctor. The American Medical Association itself is in favor of medical marijuana. The test have been done! Numerous clinical trials have shown proof again and again that marijuana is a safe and effective medicine.

Not every state constitution allows for voter referendums and FL is one of the only southern states that does. That why it is up to us to exercise our rights as voters to have our voice heard. So what happened to FL Medical Marijuana Referendum? The number of signatures needed to get it on the ballot was not met and eventually the referendum was rescinded. The doctors and lawyers on the board of CAMM who always complained there wasn’t enough funding to get the job done always seemed to favor flying themselves out to conferences and the like then just mobilizing volunteers to hit the streets and get signatures! I personally got thousands and it was never hard to do. The Miami Herald did a poll that stated 63% of all Florida voters we’re in favor of medical marijuana. This was in the late 90’s and many, many more have been educated on the issue since that time. Of course educating the public of the facts is the key and the long term goal.

Can we the people of Florida come together on this issue and show a message of solidarity with those other ten states that have asserted their right to treat people with compassion?

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  1. Tommy Chong    Thu Jun 30, 09:52 AM #  

    I’m in.

  2. Miami Harold    Fri Jul 1, 11:08 AM #  

    Whatever became of the 1998 class action suit filed on behalf of 165 medical marijuana patients nationwide by Lawrence Elliott Hirsch, Esq., in Philadelphia?