Medical marijuana supporters in Florida believe California can teach us what not to do

Study shows medical pot does not increase teen use

SAN FRANCISCO - In a haze of barbeque smoke, San Francisco's Re-Leaf marijuana co-op is busy. The line went around the block with card carrying customers eager to pick up their pot.

There are people coming in who are 18 and just freshly got their card. And there are people who are 96 and ready to roll a "J" says Elizabeth Padilla, manager of the marijuana cooperative.

The list of medical ailments purportedly helped by marijuana is long, but even Padilla admitted many are here simply to get high.  

"I would say it's literally 50-50. Fifty percent medical, 50 percent recreational," he said.

That admission is not news to most Californians, but it irks some who may have even supported the idea of medical marijuana when it was approved by voters in 1996.

"I have a real problem with essentially legalizing marijuana, which is what it becomes," said John O'Conner, an attorney sipping coffee in a North Beach cafe.  

Florida personal injury attorney John Morgan and other supporters of medical marijuana in Florida promise that won't happen here.

"You can't walk into a doctor's office and walk into a place where you can buy medical marijuana. You have to go through this whole process of sending your certification to the state, waiting for an identification card before you can actually purchase medical marijuana," said Ben Pollara of United for Care, the organization advancing the passage of medical marijuana on Florida's November ballot.

If the measure passes, Florida's Department of Health will draw up the rules for growers, distributors, users and doctors.

"The doctor's judgment has to be primary and superior," says Dr. Jay Wolfson, a health policy expert at the University of South Florida.

Wolfson believes doctors need to be held accountable for their decisions, but should have the last word on whether to recommend marijuana for a patient.
 
"I don't think any of us want people in Tallahassee or Washington or on the city council making decisions about our health care," said Wolfson.

Opponents of medical marijuana in Florida also warn of a dispensary on every corner. It never quite came to that in California, but at one point Los Angeles County reportedly had nearly 1,000.

When some cities and counties in California tried to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, they were sued. The legal decisions went back and forth until the State Supreme Court ruled that local governments do have the right to keep marijuana out of their jurisdictions -- or at least try to.

Marin County Marijuana lawyer Scot Candell thinks communities that ban dispensaries make a mistake giving up control and  tax revenue.

"Because for someone to locate in a town next door, pay their taxes to a town next door and deliver to a town where it's banned, all the benefit goes to the town where it's set up," said Candell.

Florida voters may also wonder if these laws increase recreational use. The Journal of Adolescent Health tracked more than 11 million students over 20 years and found no increased experimentation in states that legalized marijuana for medical use.

Police Chief David Swing of Morgan Hill, Calif., south of San Francisco, said his force has responded to more marijuana trafficking cases since legalization but could not say if marijuana usage was on the rise.

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