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What's Snuffing Out Medical Weed In Florida?

Rick Stone


A medical marijuana bill sponsored by two South Florida Democrats has reached the end of the line in Tallahassee.

With no committee hearings scheduled, House sponsor Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, assessed her bill's chances of passage at "slim to none." A companion bill filed by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, also got nowhere in the Senate.

The identical bills, drafted to reflect good and bad  experiences with medical marijuana in other states, would have established a tightly-regulated system of production  and distribution with prescriptions allowed only for a specific handful of catastrophic diseases.

But those close controls notwithstanding, authorized patients would have been allowed to grow up to eight plants at home to supply their own marijuana needs. Edwards said that may have been a political mistake and, if she files another bill next year, the home-growing provision may disappear.

"I think it's the perception of smoking marijuana," Edwards said. "It's much more palatable to people when you say it should be treated as a medicine in topical or pill or oil form. I'd rather look at growing it and then producing it and making sure that you get the most effective form of the cannabis."

Appearing with Edwards at a glum news conference at the capitol was Cathy Jordan, a woman from 

Katty and Cathy.jpg
Credit Rick Stone
ADVOCATES: State Rep. Katie Edwards, left, says her medical marijuana bill is unlikely to pass. ALS patient Cathy Jordan, right, believes cannabis has extended her life.

Manatee County who was diagnosed in the 1980s with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal degenerative condition also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.  Jordan, 60,  says using marijuana has allowed her to live decades beyond the short prognosis she was given, and she says pot didn't just restore appetite and make her feel better, as many believe; it actually fought the disease and extended her life.

"Neurologists have learned that cannabis does protect the brain," Edwards said in a slow, slurred voice from her wheelchair.

Despite pot's status along with heroin and LSD as an outlaw drug with no legitimate medical application, the federal government has patented one use of marijuana as an antioxidant and "neuroprotector." As early as 2001, the National Institutes of Health acknowledged  the cell-protecting  properties of marijuana and it recommended that it be investigated further as a possible weapon against ALS.

In 2010, a paper published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, and based on research on mice at the University of Washington and Temple University, concluded that marijuana may "reduce symptoms and prolong survival in patients diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis."

But to backers of medical marijuana, the accumulating research is more frustrating than helpful because few doctors will stand up at news conferences to endorse the medical use of a substance that has been a cultural symbol of illicit drugs for generations.

Edwards said politics, rather than any dispute over medical efficacy, has kept the American Medical Association from supporting legalized medical marijuana. She said the AMA controls the discussion. "I have tried to reach out to the FMA (Florida Medical Association)  because I do want doctors speaking up. But unless the AMA takes a position, they're going to sit on the sidelines."

Public approval of medical uses of marijuana appears to be growing. A poll conducted for the Florida political action committee People United for Medical Marijuana found 70 percent of Floridians in favor and 24 percent opposed. PUFMM is collecting petition signatures to bring a medical marijuana constitutional amendment to the Florida ballot in 2014.

Meanwhile John Morgan, a powerhouse Orlando lawyer who raised funds for President Obama and employs former Gov. Charlie Crist in his personal injury law firm, has become a leading financial backer of the effort. His presence is not altogether welcomed since it brings a partisan flavor to the issue and violates a strategy memo penned for PUFMM that cautions against framing the efforts for the ballot initiative in a "partisan way."

For Cathy Jordan, the issue plays out against a pattern of encouraging ups and painful downs. After a recent law enforcement raid when agents seized her pot supply from her home, she was living in pain and depression until, she says, she was re-supplied by a "good Samaritan."