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Ballot Breakdown: Pros, Cons Of Medical Marijuana In Florida

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- This November you will be voting on whether or not to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. CBS4's David Sutta breaks down the amendment, naming the pros of legalizing it, the cons of doing so and what it will mean for you.


In 2014, the initiative to legalize marijuana got 57% of the vote, just short of the super-majority - 60% needed to pass. Backers believe this time around they will get the votes needed to legalize it.

Palmetto Bay resident Patsy Rodriguez has suffered most of her life with Multiple Sclerosis. She sits at her dining room table with a collection of prescriptions and begins pointing to each bottle - naming the side effect it gives her.

"Nauseous. Depression. Vomiting. Dizzy. Keep me up. The side effects are heinous. No light or heat. Wonderful to take during a heat wave in Florida," Rodriguez said.

The 62-year-old says she has given up on most of her prescriptions. She claims they do more harm than good.

"My legs go from jello to screaming in pain. That's the only way I can describe it. I've just given up on sleep," she said.

Patsy admits the one thing that does help is marijuana.

"Medical marijuana," she quickly interjects.

Rodriguez is a classic example of millions of Americans who believe marijuana is medicine.

The pro-weed movement has taken the nation in recent years. More than 20 states have legalized it, despite the federal government classifying it in the same category as LSD or heroin.

"This issue is just moving really quickly in the court of public opinion. There has been this movement statewide to decriminalize personal possession of marijuana at the county and city level, " said Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for United for Care, the group who collected more than a million signatures to put medical marijuana on this year's ballot again.

The measure failed in 2014. Sutta asked why they think it will pass this time.

"Well first of all only in Florida is 58% a failure. We got a half million more votes than the governor was re-elected with. We won with a larger percentage of the vote than the last 10 gubernatorial elections have been decided by. Certainly presidential elections as well. But I think this is an issue with broad public support and obviously, we need 60% plus 1. And not a vote less," Pollara said.

The new amendment is essentially the same as 2014 with a little clarification.

"We clarified who qualifies to use medical marijuana in the state of Florida. It is only for people with quote debilitating medical conditions. And we clarified the definition of what a debilitating medical condition is," Pollara explained.

If the amendment passes you could expect:
-Patients with Cancer, Parkinson's, MS, ALS, AIDS, and PTSD to be eligible to use marijuana
-Doctors would be allowed to prescribe marijuana within nine months.
-The state would regulate shops selling marijuana. Early estimates show there could be as many as 2,000 of them.

Medical marijuana, technically, is legal in Florida. In 2014 the legislature approved the production and sale of cannabis oil, or CBD, as a last resort for epilepsy and cancer patients. CBD is extremely low in THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets people "high."

If Amendment 2 passes, marijuana with THC would be legal.

But what will Floridians see? What will change?

Pollara said, "I don't think most people will see any change. Sick people will get the medicine that they need without having to be criminals. Maybe when you are on South Beach instead of a new tattoo parlor, you see a marijuana retail facility but I think by and large most people will see zero impact from this."

Already the pot industry is gearing up, expecting big demand. Plants are being grown and harvested at state-sanctioned facilities currently approved for cannabis oil. The shift to THC products would be fairly quick.

When asked if he strongly believes they are going to get it legalized this time, Pollara responded, "Yes, I really do."

For Rodriguez, it can't happen soon enough.

"I'm clinging to it. I'm clinging to it. I want a good night's sleep. That's my goal," she said.

The other side of this debate has a lot to say about how bad medical marijuana is for Florida and why they believe you should be against it too.


CBS4's David Sutta recently interviewed those who helped defeat the amendment to legalize marijuana in 2014. They explained why they believe this time around the bill is just as bad.

Medical marijuana supporters make their case on people like Patsy Rodriguez. The 62-year old has been battling Multiple Sclerosis (MS)her entire life. She claims where prescriptions failed her but marijuana hasn't.

"I'm in the top five percentile of survivorship of multiple sclerosis and I don't take any of the MS drugs," Rodriguez says proudly.

Dr. Jessica Spencer was like most people. If medical marijuana is truly helping, why not legalize it?

"If you keep hearing something over and over again medical, medical, medical, we think of it's gotta be something different. And, like I said, I did too. Until I actually started digging a little deeper and saw wait, wait, wait, no it's not," Spencer said.

Spencer is now leading the charge against Amendment 2, Florida's vote this November on legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

She explains, "They say they are talking about medical marijuana. The problem is their language in their amendment does not speak the same when you get in there and read it. It is going to be allowed for an 18-year-old, so that could be a high school senior. When they say it's just for people with debilitating conditions, that would be one thing if they stopped the language right there. But they didn't. They may have made it sound fancier this time around but it still lists 'or other conditions.' Therefore everything is still going to qualify. Anyone can get their hands on it. Again, much like California, you can get it for anxiety, a headache, etc."

Furthermore, she points out today's weed is not as innocent as it may have been decades ago.

"What we know is the THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, back in the 60's and 70's was less than 1%. You know if you go out and Google and look at other states like California and look at other states that have marijuana, it's upwards of 20%. We are looking at marijuana that's 10 times more potent than what people think is safe," said Dr. Spencer.

She likens it to making alcohol or cigarettes ten times stronger. Communities would be outraged by such a move.

Dr. Spencer believes Amendment 2 would be bad for Florida.

"It's frightening really to think that they are trying to legalize this under the guise of medicine, which it is not, and putting our children and our communities at risk," said Spencer.

The "Vote No on 2 Campaign," which is backed by a group called the Drug Free Florida Committee has put out a series of videos bashing the amendment. One video highlights the people who would be selling the product. "No medical training. No clinical experience. But knows a lot about pot firsthand." you hear the announcer say. They point out marijuana would be doled out by budtenders, not medical professionals. They also note that Florida's Department of Health estimates roughly 2,000 pot shops setting up if this passes. A video on the site highlights the stat by saying "We'll have more pot shops than Starbucks, McDonalds, and 7-elevens combined:"

"No medical training. No clinical experience. But knows a lot about pot firsthand," you hear the announcer say. They point out marijuana would be doled out by budtenders, not medical professionals. They also note that Florida's Department of Health estimates roughly 2,000 pot shops setting up if this passes. A video on the site highlights the stat by saying, "We'll have more pot shops than Starbucks, McDonalds, and 7-Elevens combined."

"If we already have legal substances out there that are intoxicating and problematic, we have our DUI's, and we have our lung issues and we have our secondary issues through cigarette smoking, why would we legalize something else that we know to be an intoxicating substance, directly affect your brain and your cognitive function. Why would we legalize that,"Spencer says.

Again, the argument is for people like Patsy Rodriguez, who believes marijuana is medicine.

"The question becomes are you experiencing euphoria from the intoxicating properties that are highly potent at this point from the marijuana or are you, in fact, experiencing relief," Dr. Spencer said in reaction.

The "Vote No on 2 Campaign" has their work cut out for them. There have been a handful of polls over the last year and all of them show overwhelming support for medical marijuana.

As a voter, it's your turn to voice whether you support medical marijuana or are against it.


CBS Miami's Jim DeFede discussed the topic on Facing South Florida and heard from both sides of the argument. Watch the video below to see what was said.

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