Brent Batten: Medical marijuana is no joke

BRENT BATTEN

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You could say there’s budding interest in medical marijuana in Tallahassee.

Or that the issue is taking root or that State Rep. Jeff Clemens is high on the idea.

You could say that, but it would be wrong to.

Because while medical marijuana has become a punch line in places like California, where authorities struggle to keep fly-by-night operators from selling weed to anyone and everyone claiming the slightest pain or anxiety, it is a serious matter to Clemens.

The freshman Democrat from Lake Worth is sponsoring House Joint (no pun intended) Resolution 1407, which would establish the framework for medical marijuana in Florida.

“Seven people die from prescription pain medicine in Florida every day. No one ever died from using cannabis,” Clemens said.

“Why is there this stigma about that one drug? People are suffering. If there’s a more natural way to ease that suffering, why wouldn’t we do that? The truth is, there is no good reason.”

If passed, HJR 1407 would put the question of medical marijuana to voters as an amendment to the state constitution.

Specifics about how the legal cannabis would be grown and sold would be worked out after the vote.

But the language of the bill stresses things like debilitating medical condition, a bona-fide doctor-patient relationship and a role for the primary caregiver in determining if a person would qualify for medical marijuana.

It is patterned after laws in Colorado and New Mexico, two of the more than one dozen states that have already approved medicinal use of cannabis in one form or another.

Clemens said he hopes to avoid the problems of California, the first state to permit it. There, in parts of Los Angeles, for instance, marijuana dispensaries have been reported to outnumber McDonalds franchises and barkers work the street inviting passers-by in for a quick consultation with a doctor that can lead to a recommendation — a prescription isn’t required — for medical marijuana that can be filled on the spot.

Those dispensaries operate in a way reminiscent of “pill mills,” in Florida, places where people can readily acquire prescription narcotics after an exam by a physician. “We don’t want to go through the same thing they’re going through with the pill mills,” Clemens said.

A decade ago, prior to a term as mayor of Lake Worth and his election to the Florida House, Clemens was an arts critic for the Naples Daily News and a musician in area rock bands. But this isn’t some hippie looking for a legal high. “People who know me know not only have I never smoked marijuana, I don’t even drink,” he said.

His concern stems from talks he’s had over the years. “I’ve met people who were living with really difficult pain. It doesn’t make good ethical or medical sense to deny it,” he said.

While he’s gotten support from a few fellow House Democrats and libertarian activists outside the Legislature, so far HJR 1407 has gotten little traction in the House. No hearings have been scheduled and there’s no companion bill in the Senate.

That’s OK, Clemens said. If it doesn’t get heard this year, he’ll try again next year. “When you try something brand new that has this kind of stigma, it’s going to take some time to change hearts and minds.

“This is the beginning of the discussion. It’s an issue that was lying under the surface that no one was willing to talk about.”

Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten

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Comments » 1

bkgirl writes:

I could never understand our laws. We will give someone a pill for every complaint they make...we allow alcohol to be legal which I think is a very addictive drug and a deadly one but yet we won't legalize marijunana knowing it can help people. Lets just say it did get into the wrong hands and someone used it recreational. Would that be a crime? you don't feel that way about alcohol. Where is the sense here? Come on people admit it's all about money not about caring for the people

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