The petition was crafted by attorneys with knowledge of what would pass the Florida Supreme Court, which lead to it being very rigid in it's definition, strictly focused on medical marijuana and the ailments it treats, while clearly defining who is allowed to give and receive the treatment.
The audience's questions ranged from why certain ailments such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder weren't included on the petition, how medical marijuana will be regulated if the initiative is passed and why just medical marijuana as opposed to full legalization being advocated.
Kim Russel of United For Care and PUFMM spent an hour answering questions and relieving concerns, making it clear that the Department of Health will be the body that decides how medicinal marijuana will be regulated and that many studies have shown that medical marijuana has an almost 40% higher approval rating from public surveys than legalization.
“It's complicated”, said Russell of the confusion some of the volunteers had with the petition. “It's a two-page edition written by attorneys, so it's going to be complicated. I understand everybody being confused but we did the best that we can given that we're in Florida. It is still conservative.”
Volunteers who attended were given signs and shirts, along with hundreds of petitions, to be used in drawing attention to their displays in major population centers throughout the state.
Volunteers who attended often found themselves deeply connected to the issue. Alfred Robinson joined the cause after he was arrested for possession at his Polk County home. He has been using marijuana as a means for his recovery from 14 years of opiate addiction.
“That arrest has woken up the bear,” said Robinson. “I would've been happy to stay at home and mind my own business, I have a farm I take care of, but now they've put me into this position and they won't ever shut me up. I was one of those people. I was afraid to put my name out there because I didn't want to draw more attention. I was afraid to be outspoken. I'm not afraid any more. I've lost that fear.”
Robinson's trial is set to select a jury on August 19. He will be using a medical necessity defense.
Another volunteer is Peter Heuer. Heuer has been involved with organizations focused on the full legalization concept, but still sees the petition drive as a step in the right connection.
“If you came to me and asked if I would rather this or the legalization of all drugs, I would be against this medical marijuana issue,” said Heuer. “I would want marijuana legalized for anybody. In January I got diagnosed with cancer, serious cancer. My doctor and I have been talking about a drug called Marinol, a derivative of Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC. It helps boost your appetite. There are many other ways THC can treat ailments. Because its classified as a class one narcotic, it means that it has no medicinal value. We're finding out that that is not true. I saw this was happening locally in Florida. It's a start. It's something. My heart and soul is with LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) and I'm going to continue doing that, but I'll do everything I can to help get this thing passed.”
Heuer's illness is very serious and he hopes to dedicate the rest of his functioning life to those who will face what he faces today.
“Why wait? Let's do it tomorrow, let's do it yesterday. People are suffering and dying. The type of cancer I have is definitely life threatening. I may not be alive in two weeks. While I'm alive and kicking and have the energy, I'm going to exert as much of my energy to helping this plan work. Why make people suffer when they don't have to? I couldn't let this pass me by, I had to take it up.”
Organizers were pleased with the day's events and excited for what the rest of the collection process will bring.
“This was fantastic,” said Cydni of United For Care and PUFFM. “It's awesome to see so many people turning out because we've been looking to protect patients in Florida for more than four years now and it's exciting to see our support grow. I grow more committed every day because I'm out on the sidewalk and the people who approach me and tell me how cannabis has helped them or a loved one deal with an illness and how important this is for them and thank me for doing this is very rewarding.”
As of last count only 30,000 of the 700,000 petitions required have been submitted. The deadline is February 1, but the group is aiming for New Year's Day 2014 to prevent any verification delays on the state's behalf. Currently United For Care conducts bi-weekly meetings in both Tampa and Pinellas county. Information on these and how to properly submit a petition is available on their website