Earlier this week Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, introduced a bill allowing medial marijuana patients to be allowed to smoke pot.
It was the first step for a very controversial bill in the upper chamber, but it almost died because of a tie vote which required Senate Democrats to have to quickly call for a reconsideration motion when the bill initially ended up in a tie vote. Once it was reconsidered, the bill passed and the sponsor vowed to work the bill so that it has a chance for consideration later in the session.
The Republicans on the committee in their public comments clearly were uncomfortable about allowing any medical pot patient to be smoking, given the universally held opinion that the smoking of any product is not healthy.
Democrats, on the other hand, along with the sponsor, continued to hammer on the fact that the will of the voters was that medical marijuana is now legal and that smoking was part of the deal.
But, as Florida Smart Justice Alliance pointed out, in fact, the authors of the amendment had three opportunities to succinctly put in the amendment language that the smoking of medical marijuana is legal. Yet, they purposely failed to put that simple language in their amendment.
Because if they had done that, it would not have passed.
The authors of the amendment are both lawyers and bright people. One is a former law school dean and the other is a prominent trial attorney. They knew what they were doing.
Amendment 2 failed the first time it was put on the ballot after spending millions of dollars.
The second time they tweaked the amendment language and began collecting some signatures before they went back and amended it again to get what they believed was the clearest language possible.
However, in all three versions they never made it crystal clear that smoking was allowed. That wasn’t an accident. That was by design.
The authors, and only the authors, are responsible for what they gave voters to consider.
They didn’t nail the smoking part because it would have made the amendment a loser, and after spending millions of dollars the first time, there was no way they were going to spend millions again, only to lose a second time.
It’s popular for A-2 proponents to claim now that voters knew what they were voting for and they want to smoke pot; but they can’t prove that because no one knows definitively why voters voted the way they did.
It’s clear, though, that voters wanted to have medical marijuana available to them.
The will of the people, well, that’s left up to proponents and opponents to debate, because we never know why voters support any amendment other than they did.
This is the Achilles heal of the amendment process, because we only have what the amendment actually says.
Sen. Brandes went on to tell the Senate Health Policy Committee that the courts have already approved smoking of marijuana, and while that is technically true, the circuit judge’s ruling is suspect from the beginning.
Judge Karen Gievers has ruled in two cases that citizens can grow their own pot and that they can smoke it, but it’s also true that Judge Gievers has been overturned by the First District Court of Appeals more than any other judge in the 2nd Circuit.
That makes her ruling questionable in legal circles.
Despite all this repetitive debate, the authors purposely left the matter vague so that they could continuously litigate it and garner even more publicity.
When you distill this entire debate to its core issue, the question remains whether medical marijuana is indeed medicinal.
Smart Justice has, for the last four years, proposed that Florida set aside funding for clinical trials and academic and peer-reviewed research.
In fact, had Florida already done so, we’d already have some preliminary data on what works for which diseases or health conditions, as you can generally get some results after about three years and some pretty good documentation after about five years.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, even filed legislation to set up the research at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, which Smart Justice has supported -- but it went nowhere.
Some may argue that because marijuana is rated a Class I drug, research can’t be undertaken. Yet, the University of Miami has been conducting studies for several years now with GW Pharmaceutical, the makers of Charlotte’s Web.
Research can be conducted, but most universities demure because of its federal classification and that’s why Smart Justice has supported changing marijuana from a Class I drug to a Class II drug. But this must be accomplished by Congress.
Rigorous studies at universities, research hospitals, qualified doctors' offices around the state could provide multiple opportunities to test dosage, marijuana strength, frequency, and the method of delivery for both children and adults.
Florida should do this because if the state is going to sanction marijuana as medicine, then we have a moral obligation to our citizens to understand what works and what doesn’t.
And pharmaceutical companies will probably be willing to consider joining in the funding of the research.
Unfortunately, proponents don’t seem to want to undertake any research, they just want to smoke it, and that’s OK for terminally ill patients, but what about for children or youths under the age of 18?
Should the government sanction students in schools to smoke pot?
How will that realistically happen?
Do we really want children to be smoking, a delivery process that has no positive health impact except it gets into the body quickly?
What about the development of children’s brains? The National Institute for Drug Abuse research documents that brains continue to develop until the age of 24.
The responsible thing to do is to help answer the question of whether marijuana is a medicinal drug.
Anecdotally we hear wonderful stories of pain relief from chronic pain, seizures, and other maladies, and it appears to work for the patients, at least according to them.
The Moffit Cancer Center has put together the staff, protocols and policies to begin serious research. Let’s let them do what they do best, and once and for all, we can provide answers that citizens deserve.
After all, isn’t that what government is supposed to do? Provide for the common good and to protect us?
If we start now, we’ll have answers in the near future, and perhaps we’ll learn the truthful answers that we all deserve.
Ultimately, certified patients will get to smoke pot because Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated that he doesn’t think it’s government's job to be an impediment for access to marijuana, and he will win because he alone has the power to drop the pending appeal of Judge Gievers' ruling.
But there is also an imperative that we must do our best to determine the medicinal value and to protect children. Adults can make decisions for themselves, children must be protected until we know the true facts.
Barney Bishop III is the president and CEO of Florida Smart Justice Alliance, a center-right criminal justice reform advocacy group that is law enforcement-centric. He can be reached at email@example.com