Medical marijuana is legal in the state of Florida. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t controversial, and fraught with decades of emotional baggage. Some of the state’s foremost medical cannabis advocates, doctors and resource providers came to the Unitarian Universalist (UU) sanctuary in North Naples on Monday night, to share information, offer products, and make their case for the millenia-old herbal remedy that is the latest thing in modern medicine.

The program, tilted “Cannabis Forum: Medical Marijuana and You,” was sponsored by the Crohn’s Charity Service Foundation, an organization advocating for patients of one of the ailments most helped by medical cannabis. It was moderated by Barry Gordon, M.D., chief medical officer of the Compassionate Cannabis Clinic in Venice, who also gave a talk on “What Every Patient Needs to Know.”

“I’ve never seen anyone overdose on marijuana – you can’t,” said Gordon. “I’ve never seen anyone beat up their husband or wife from smoking a joint – it’s a peaceful substance. I’ve never lost a partner, a friend, or a family member to cannabis. Alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling, overwork, yes, but never marijuana.”

A slide illustrated the point: in 2013, nationwide, there were 22,800 overdose deaths from prescription drugs, 8,200 from heroin, 5,000 from cocaine, 2,300 from alcohol, two from water (!) and zero from cannabis.

Additional speakers included Dr. Gregory Sonn of the Iona Cannabis Clinic in Fort Myers, and emergency room physician and former Army doctor Kelly King, M.D., chief medical officer of the Center for Medical Marijuana in Brandon, Fl. and Laguna Beach, Ca., who spoke on “Cannabis as Medicine.” Author Irvin Rosenfeld, the longest surviving federal medical cannabis patient in the U.S., spoke and also sold his book, “My Medicine.”

A group of vendors, related providers, and cannabis activists staffed tables in the UU courtyard before the formal presentations in the sanctuary. Andrew Felix, editor in chief of Cannabis News Florida, handed out copies of his publication.

Exhibitors included Trulieve, a medical marijuana treatment center in Quincy, Fl.,, an information clearing house for cannabis operated by THC Media, Inc., whose president Patty Gordon is married to Dr. Barry Gordon, the event moderator. Also offering information were Surterra Wellness, Curaleaf, Liberty Health Sciences, and the Crohn’s Charity Service Foundation.

As an example of just how sensitive the topic of evening’s program remains, a photographer taking pictures of the vendors offering cannabis-related products and information was stopped from shooting a picture of one of the attendees, who showed her ID from a local medical institution to explain why she could not be photographed at the event. Another attendee, Jeanne Emerick, was unconcerned about who would be offended by the one most effective treatment for her medical condition.

“My insurance pays for 99 percent of my medicines and my treatments,” she said. “When will they cover what really helps me?”

Naples resident Brittany Lengyel, who suffered a serious car accident, mirrored her concern. After three years of CBD, or cannabidiol treatment, she said, “I wouldn’t be here without it. The least I can do is help spread the word. I don’t want anyone to suffer like I did.”

Speakers went through the long history of cannabis for therapeutic treatments, as well as the U.S. government’s campaign to demonize it, starting in the 1930s. Clips from the 1936 film “Reefer Madness” were played to derision and amazement.

While this area is rightly known as a conservative hotbed, over 64 percent in Collier County voted to make medical marijuana legal, nearly as large a margin as the 71 percent statewide who supported the amendment.

Local municipalities and Collier County have enacted restrictions on medical marijuana clinics, and the Florida Legislature attempted to ban any smokable marijuana from being used as therapy, but presenters at the forum predicted these strictures would fall away as the benefits of the treatment become more widely known.

As speakers noted, even those who have been strongly to allowing the use of medical marijuana quickly change their position when a family member – or themselves – find themselves suffering from one of the lengthy list of conditions for which cannabis provides the best, most side effect-free relief.

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