Pinellas County officials are keeping an eye on the medical marijuana issue.
CLEARWATER – There’s a chance Florida may join the list of 20 states that have legalized the use medical marijuana.
A ballot question is scheduled to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, asking voters to approve allowing physician-supervised use of cannabis. Bills filed in the House and Senate of the Florida Legislature Feb. 10, call for legalization of controlled use of medical marijuana.
Pinellas County Commission Norm Roche, who serves on the Public Safety Coordinating Council, brought the subject up during the Feb. 11 commission meeting. He said the coordinating council was looking at what county ordinances might be affected if medical marijuana was legalized.
“It’s a very fascinating discussion,” Roche said.
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch asked about the paraphernalia ordinance enacted when he was chair in 2006. Roche said it was among those being considered. He said the sheriff’s office also was looking at what county laws legalization might affect.
Welch pointed out that if medical marijuana were legalized, an education campaign likely would be required to inform the public that not all marijuana use was legal.
Push for legalization
United for Care is the backer of the constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. The Florida Division of Elections confirmed that enough signatures had been validated to put the measure on the November ballot and the state Supreme Court approved the ballot language in January.
The Florida Division of Elections reports that Pinellas County residents accounted for 76,787 of the 786,368 valid signatures favoring placing an amendment on the ballot.
According to the nonprofit lobbying organization Norml, the amendment would allow doctors to “recommend cannabis therapy” to their patients and authorize the Department of Health to register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes. To pass, the amendment needs 60 percent approval by voters.
House Bill 859 and Senate Bill 962 also would allow the use of medical marijuana in Florida.
The Senate Bill, titled the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, which failed in 2013, is named after a Manatee County woman suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Jordan has used marijuana for medicinal purposes for more than a decade.
Authorities raided her home Feb. 15, 2013 and seized marijuana plants being grown by her husband. The couple argued that the plants were used to treat her medical condition. Eventually, the Manatee County State Attorney’s Office dropped charges against the couple.
Tampa Senator Jeff Clemens took up the cause, filing a bill in 2013 and 2014. Clemens bill calls for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to regulate the industry and be responsible for licensing and permitting of dispensaries and farms.
Opponents of legalizing medical marijuana, including state Attorney General Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott, argue that marijuana is illegal according to federal law. Bondi filed a motion with the state Supreme Court in January trying to keep the constitutional amendment off the ballot. She argued that the ballot title and summary was misleading.
The Supreme Court subsequently approved the ballot title, “Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions,” and the summary, which says, “Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients' medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.”
United for Care says on its website that marijuana is currently “legal as medicine” in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Information on the homepage states that marijuana “has been shown to be an effective treatment for the symptoms and side effects associated with HIV/AIDS, cancer, hepatitis C, PTSD, MS and other neuromuscular disorders, glaucoma, and chronic pain. The American College of Physicians, American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, and many other associations and organizations support the availability of medicinal marijuana.”
The Witch’s Brew Café and Pub, 1219 Florida Ave. in Palm Harbor, is offering a monthly educational series on the subject of “Hemp & Cannabis” starting Tuesday, March 11, 6:30 p.m. The eight-month series scheduled on second and fourth Tuesdays continues through October. For more information, call 483-9210 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.