VOTE YES ON AMENDMENT 2

TAMPA BAY TIMES GETS IT WRONG ON AMENDMENT 2

For those unaware, Floridians will have their say in this November’s election on a Constitutional Amendment to legalize medical marijuana.  I was recently surprised to see the Tampa Bay Times publish a recommendation to vote no on Amendment 2.  Given the Times’ progressive-lean, I expected from them a strong endorsement in support of the measure.  If the Times can’t even support Amendment 2, there has to be a good reason, right?

Wrong.

The reasoning provided by the Tampa Bay Times is deeply-flawed.  Here’s how:

Well-Meaning Doctors

The Times claims the good, well-intentioned doctors of our State will exploit a “loophole” written into Amendment 2.  First, our good, well-meaning doctors will do what they feel is best for their patients.  Claiming that our good doctors will exploit a loophole presumes that they will act in their own best-interests, rather than that of their patients.  Will some doctors dole out marijuana for their own financial gain?  Probably.  But it won’t be the good, well-intentioned ones.

If the patient has a debilitating condition for which the doctor “believes the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks,” Amendment 2 would allow the doctor to treat with marijuana.  The Times wants a limited list of conditions for which medical marijuana can be used.  Essentially, they favor legislative regulation over medical discretion.  I trust our doctors far more than I trust our legislature, and I suspect most Floridians share the same sentiment.  There is no rational basis for limiting our good doctors from treating debilitating conditions with marijuana.  Should we really limit their options to Advil or Oxycodone?

Also, the Florida Supreme Court made very clear that Amendment 2 does not allow doctors to treat any condition with marijuana.  For a condition not specifically listed in Amendment 2, the physician must use his or her professional discretion to determine that the patient’s condition is debilitating.  Voting yes on Amendment 2 simply gives our good, well-meaning doctors another option to treat suffering Floridians.

No Limits on Caregivers’ Qualifications

The Times also takes issue with the lack of limitations placed on personal caregivers’ qualifications.  Amendment 2 allows for a personal caregiver to assist with a patient’s use of medical marijuana.  There are a variety of debilitating conditions (ALS comes to mind) that require a third party to assist the with the patient’s treatment.  While the Times is again concerned about people with dishonest intentions, the use of medical marijuana would be impractical for many patients without the help of a personal caregiver.

Amendment 2 places the following restrictions on a personal caregiver:

  • Must be at least 21 years old
  • May assist no more than 5 patients at one time
  • Prohibited from consuming marijuana obtained for the patient

Perhaps most importantly, a personal caregiver ID card must also be obtained through the Department of Health – which will only promulgate additional regulations and restrictions if Amendment 2 is passed.  Because the Department of Health hasn’t addressed personal caregiver qualifications, the Times’ criticism is premature and unfounded.

Immunity

Amendment 2 provides civil and criminal immunity for patients, personal caregivers, physicians, and registered medical marijuana treatment centers, and its employees, who comply with the provisions of the Amendment.  It means that patients won’t be charged with possession, doctors and personal caregivers won’t be charged with trafficking, and the employees of treatment centers will not face racketeering charges.

The Times questions whether the immunity provision “provides a broad license to be above the law.”  Amendment 2 would certainly change the law.  And the immunity provision is an obvious necessity to facilitate that change.  The immunity provision plainly limits immunity for those engaged in the treatment of debilitating conditions with medical marijuana, as provided by Amendment 2.  It does not allow for doctors to sell marijuana recreationally.  It does not allow for patients to use marijuana they purchased on the street.

I’m really not sure what else to make of The Times’ argument against the immunity provision.  Frankly, it makes no damn sense.

Wait on Legislative Action? 

Despite their opposition to Amendment 2, the Times supports the legalization of medical marijuana through legislative action.  But our conservative state legislature has no political incentive to legalize medical marijuana.  To the contrary, they will construe a rejection of Amendment 2 as a mandate to ignore the issue for the foreseeable future.

Amendment 2 gives the people of Florida the power to make the decision.  There is no need to wait on Tallahassee.  We can and should vote yes on Amendment 2.  It may be our only opportunity.