On Florida’s Possible Path To Medical Marijuana Legalization

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Florida voters could be voting to legalize marijuana as soon as 2014.

Florida medical marijuana supporters have created a petition to get the medical marijuana issue on the general election ballot.

The petition — started by United for Care, a campaign run by People United for Medical Marijuana — kicked off  the legalization campaign in July.

Ben Pollara, the campaign manager and treasurer of United for Care, said the campaign has already collected more than 180,000 signatures.

About 683,149 total Florida registered voter signatures are required by Feb. 1 to get the amendment on the ballot.

“Each county’s election supervisors have 30 days to process submitted petitions, so there is a lag between the number of collected and the number processed,” Pollara said.

For that reason, United for Care wants to reach its goal by Jan. 1, 2014, he said.

The United for Care campaign was started by a stay-at-home mom and member of the Orange County Republican Executive Committee in Orlando, Kim Russell.

People United for Medical Marijuana launched in 2009 when Russell’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Pollara said.

Russell’s father refused to take medical marijuana to relieve his symptoms because it was illegal, Pollara added.

Russell then decided to launch a campaign to help legalize medical marijuana for those Floridians who would benefit from it.

People United for Medical Marijuana branched off into the United for Care campaign in July.

United for Care has completed two polls, both revealing that 70 percent of Floridians are in favor of medical marijuana legislation.

“We, as an organization, believe that if the voters in Florida are given the opportunity to pass this, they will,” Pollara said. “But the legislature is not going to act in any meaningful way any time soon.”

Groups have long been attempting to make medical marijuana legal in Florida, but without success, Pollara said.

While two pieces of legislation in favor of legalizing medical marijuana made it to the state legislature in 2012, they did not garner any traction.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re pushing forward with a constitutional amendment that the voters of Florida can actually vote on and have a voice, rather than pursuing a legislative agenda,” Pollara said. “This is not about the legalization of marijuana. This is not about drug reform. This is about getting compassionate healthcare to people who really need it.”

Amy Ronshausen, manager of legislative and congressional affairs for Save Our Society from Drugs, said legalizing medical marijuana in Florida is not the way her organization thinks medicine should be done within the state.

“The people that support and that are pushing for these ballot measures are working on these issues to play on people’s compassion,” she said.

Gainesville resident Gamal Jadue, 23, said he does not see the problem with legalizing medical marijuana in Florida if it can improve people’s lives.

“For medical purposes, it should definitely be legal,” Jadue said. “If medical research says that it’s beneficial to use it, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be legal.”

About Amber Dawson

Amber is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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