Orlando lawyer John “For the People” Morgan and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd squared off Thursday in an Amendment 2 forum that drew both jeers and cheers from the standing room only crowd at the Harrison School for the Performing Arts. The high-visibility duo led a six-member panel to discuss the constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana in Florida if passed. Also on the panel were Lakeland physician Dr. Sergio Seoane; Irvin Rosenfeld, whose long-term use of marijuana is sanctioned and provided by the federal government; Bradenton drug abuse counselor Dr. Jessica Spencer; and Winter Haven psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Reddout.
But the stars of the show were Morgan and Judd.
After trading compliments in their introductory comments, the two steadfastly took to their corners.
Morgan said he bankrolled the Amendment 2 placement on the November ballot after seeing how marijuana helped his father through his cancer battle, and alleviates the pain his brother endures following an accident that left him paralyzed.
Judd, the immediate past president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, has steadfastly opposed the amendment, claiming it is riddled with loopholes that will open the doors for unrestrained use of the drug by those who do not need it for medical purposes.
Morgan also maintained that the drug, classified by the federal government in the same category as heavy-duty narcotics such as heroin and cocaine, is being withheld from those with “debilitating diseases” by “Big Pharma” — large pharmaceutical companies that manufacture drugs now prescribed for alleviating pain and minimizing seizures.
Judd countered that proponents of Amendment 2 “tug at the heartstrings of voters,” but the amendment does not provide proper oversight or regulation.
“The amendment says anyone can get marijuana if a doctor says they need it. It doesn’t matter how old they are, or what their condition really is,” said Judd.
Rosenfeld, a stockbroker from Fort Lauderdale, has smoked 10 marijuana cigarettes a day for more than 30 years as part of a now-discontinued federal government program. He receives his medical marijuana from the government to alleviate pain caused by a rare bone disorder.
“It’s not as scary as you may think,”he said. “And, by smoking marijuana, I don’t have to take morphine.”
Seoane told the group that studies indicate that while marijuana may have some medicinal properties and be beneficial in some instances, by and large, it has not been adequately studied for widespread medical usage.
“What we need is for the federal government to remove it from the Class 1 category so it can be fully studied. We know there are some beneficial qualities, but it just hasn’t been studied enough.”
Reddout, who has participated in several forums on this issue, said, “The science of this drug’s use tells us it is not without risk, especially for teens whose brains are still developing. We also know that teens using the drug are likely to become dependent on it.”
His views were echoed by Spencer, who has worked with addicts for many years as a counselor.
“What we’re saying isn’t a flat no,” she said. “What we’re saying is not now.” Like Seoane, she said there were not enough measures in place to adequately monitor who will receive the drug and in what dosage. She also said the existing proposal could spawn “pot docs” who would indiscriminately recommend its use for all comers, regardless of need.
Morgan maintained that detailed studies had been performed on marijuana in other countries that show its medicinal properties.
“Why should we have to wait 20 or 30 years for studies that have already been done?” he asked. “This is an herb from God and nature that works — and nobody ever died from a marijuana overdose.”
Rosenfeld also countered the lack of regulation saying he and others were members of a select committee working on policies for the state that would regulate the drug.
“We want the best rules and regulations in the nation,” he told the crowd. “We don’t want it botched up and want the best laws possible.”
The constitutional amendment is on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. It has to get 60 percent of the vote to become a Constitutional Amendment.