Although there may have been some undecided voters inside the St. Pete Yacht club on Wednesday who attended a Tiger Bay debate between a supporter and critic of Florida's upcoming medical marijuana ballot measure, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was not one of them.
"This is all about trying to get something on the ballot to get something legalized under the guise of calling it 'medical something' so people can sit around on Saturday night with a bunch of marijuana cigarettes and get high recreationally. That's really what it's all about," the Sheriff told CL after the forum, which featured Cassandra Akanu from Students for Sensible Drug Policy debating Lana Beck, from the Drug Free America Foundation on Amendment 2.
Gualtieri's response is not surprising in the least, as the Florida Sheriffs Association has been one of most prominent organizations to come out strongly in opposition to the medical marijuana initiative. They've recently launched a campaign called "Don't Let Florida Go to Pot" which includes a website
documenting what they say are the dangers of Florida becoming the 23rd state in the country to pass such a law, which would permit patients with a doctor's note to obtain pot legally at a state-sanctioned dispensary.
Among the hot-button topics that critics like Beck use in criticizing Amendment 2 is Florida's relatively recent troubles with opiates such as OxyContin, earning the Sunshine State the dubious distinction of being considered a"pill mill" filled with unscrupulous doctors irresponsibly prescribing drugs to people who did not need them. Beck said Amendment Two gives doctors, and virtually everyone else who will be involved in the medical marijuana industry, immunity.
"Amendment 2 gives immunity to the entire industry," Beck told the Tiger Bay audience. "Growers, users, sellers. What kind of industry has that type of protection?" she asked. "Even Big Tobacco doesn't have that. That raises a red flag for me."
The Sheriff wholeheartedly agrees. "This amendment will allow unscrupulous practitioners to open up pot shops and be pot docs and make a buck, and issue these certifications that are not prescriptions, they're just certifications, and somebody can take that to a dispensary and get their prescription in unlimited amounts."
During the Q&A session of the forum, St. Petersburg City Councilman Bill Dudley asked Cassandra Akanu from Students for Sensible Drug Policy how doctors would be able to differentiate between those with legitimate pain and health issues, and those who really don't need pot. She replied that "medication is medication," and it would be up to the professionalism of doctors to be responsible, just as is the case with any medication they dispense to their patients. "It gives the doctor the option to consider it," she added.
Gualtieri stressed that he's in full support of providing medication to those who are seriously ill to relieve pain, but says if that' s the case, there are already legal remedies such as Marinol (the only FDA-approved synthetic cannabinoid that comes in a capsule) and other prescription medications such as CBD, the second major cannabinoid in pot after THC, that has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, but no psychoactive effects. "But this isn't about that," he says.
But medical marijuana advocates say that Marinol typically provides only limited relief to select patients, as is the case with CBD's, such as "Charlotte's Web," that the Florida Legislature passed earlier this year.
"You see families who have moved from all over the country to get this 'Charlotte's Web' thing, and what they've found is that Charlotte's Web doesn't help their kids because it doesn't have a high enough THC ratio," Ben Pollara told CL
last month. Pollara is the campaign manager with United for Care, the group advocating for Amendment Two.
Gualtieri is well aware of the fact that Amendment 2 is doing quite well in the polls some five months before the election, but he says that's because Floridians simply haven't been properly educated about the measure. "It's all in how you form the question and what you're telling them," he says about the large support that it garners right now.
"So what you're going to end up with is a person who claims they've got a headache, they're going to to some doctor who's going to receive $100 or $200. They're going to give him certification, take them to a dispensary and they're going to sit there on Saturday night and smoke pot. That's what's really going to happen with it. "