Medical marijuana debate at University of Tampa draws hundreds

TAMPA, Fla. - It's one of the most contentious topics in Florida. Monday night, you could feel the heat as supporters and opponents faced off at the University of Tampa's second-annual medical marijuana debate.

Armed with puns and witty one-liners, both sides walked into the Martinez Athletics Center revved up for a fight. 

"The pro-pot folks are really just carrying around this bag of smoke trying to make the public think it's medicine and it simply is not," said Dr. Eric Voth, chairman of the Institute of Global Drug Policy. 

"400,000 people are going to benefit on day one. All the other stuff that they're going to throw at you is just a smokescreen, a scare tactic, by professionals that run around doing nothing but stirring up trouble," said attorney John Morgan.

The pro-medical marijuana debate team consisted of Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and attorney John Morgan. On the opposite side sat Kevin Sabet, the director of the Institute on Drug Policy at University of Florida and Dr. Eric Voth. 

Some memorable quotes from the night:

"The mission I'm on is a mission of mercy. Medical marijuana works and we know it works and it's going to happen this year," said Morgan.

"Opium also contains medical properties, but I don't think anyone here would say we should smoke opium or inject heroin," said Sabet.

"I wouldn't trust the FDA and the big pharma companies as far as I can throw them," Morgan said. "I don't trust the FDA, I trust an organic plant."

"A 15-year-old with a hang nail can go to a podiatrist in Miami and get marijuana according to the way the bill is written," said Sabet. 

Hundreds of people on both sides of the fence cheered on the various lines they liked. But Ryan Roman sat quietly yet with an opinion stronger than most. 

"I was diagnosed in 2005 with a rare form of spinal cancer," Roman said. 

The cancer has since progressed to his brain. For the past nine years, he's used concentrated cannabis. He said it helps with his appetite and his pain. 

For Roman the debate wasn't about the bickering (which there was quite a lot of...). In his wheelchair and "I'm a patient, not a criminal" tee-shirt, he said this is about his future. Come November, this issue will decide whether his family stays or goes. 

"If I have to leave to not feel like a criminal, I mean that's my only option. I don't want to. Hopefully this will happen," Roman said. 

The right side of the room couldn't disagree more. 

The medical marijuana amendment will be on this November's ballot. To become state law, it needs 60 percent of voter approval.

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