Is marijuana a critical medicine or a dangerous drug that is beyond regulation? That is the question Florida voters may soon be given to answer.
Orlando attorney John Morgan joined United for Care this year, pledging $3.5 million to assist in the petition drive to bring the medical marijuana initiative before Florida voters.
Morgan is no stranger to Florida Constitutional
amendments. In 2004 he led a campaign to raise the state's minimum wage. But $3.5 million for the medical marijuana push might not be enough, and time is short.
Since 2009, Orlando resident Kim Russell, of People United for Medical Marijuana, has been working to gather signatures to put the issue on a
statewide ballot. She has gathered just 70,000, and the group has until Feb. 1 to turn in 683,149 valid signatures.
Meanwhile, the cost to simply gather the necessary signatures is expected to be at least $3.5 million, with additional money required to campaign for the measure heading into the election.
"It's just a bad situation they put dying people in to break the law to get
relief," said Russell.
One of those people is Maria Greenfield.
In 2012, Greenfield discovered a lump in her breast, which turned out to be cancer. Since her initial diagnosis, the cancer has moved to her bones, and she is now at Stage 4 with prescriptions to manage the pain and effects of treatment.
Greenfield said the drugs prescribed to her by her doctor make her sick and lethargic, so she instead takes a cannabis pill that she buys in Michigan and illegally brings back to central Florida.
"The cannabis allows me to function whereas the opiate or narcotics would not allow that" she said. "The side effects of me taking cannabis are so minute compared to the side effects of my taking Dilaudid."
Eighteen states, including the District of Columbia, have laws allowing for medical marijuana. However, the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance and has taken steps to shut down operations in many states.
In 2012, federal prosecutors in California began targeting medical marijuana dispensaries that were operating outside state law.
While President Barack Obama's administration has taken a hands-off approach to medical marijuana, the Department of Justice has been quick to act in states where medical marijuana is not legal or in states where distributors fail to follow state law.
"Medicinal is their step in the door and eventually it's going to go to recreational" said Angie Ellison of InnerAct Alliance a non-profit anti-drug abuse group. "It's already in place, what's needed."
Ellison and other opponents to medical marijuana point out that pills containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, are already available by prescription. Those pills, according to a study conducted by Columbia University, are far more effective than smoked marijuana, showing long-lasting decreases in pain versus smoke marijuana.
The American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association, the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Police Chief's Association have all come out in opposition to legalization of medical marijuana.
In a written statement, the American Cancer Society said, "The American Cancer Society is supportive of more research into the benefits of cannabinoids. Better and more effective treatments are needed to overcome the side effects of cancer and its treatment. The Society does not advocate the use of inhaled marijuana or the legalization of marijuana."
While many members of law enforcement and the medical community are opposed to the legalization of medical marijuana, public opinion is trending in the opposite direction. A survey of 500 likely Florida voters by People United for Medical Marijuana found 71 percent of respondents were in favor of a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana with 46 percent in favor of outright legalization.