Lawmakers discuss medical marijuana legislation

Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando,and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, discussed legislation that would legalize the use of medical marijuana in Florida at their press conference Monday.

House Bill 859, the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, would allow Floridians with chronic health conditions to legally use cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Twenty other states and the District of Columbia recognize the medicinal benefits of marijuana.

“Study after study proves, and now evidence of these states backs up, that medical marijuana can help people,” Saunders said.

According to Saunders, the Cathy Jordan Bill shows compassion and allows Floridians to have an alternative from using medications, which have harsh side effects and are less effective.

“Those who need [medicinal cannabis] will work with a doctor to get it, and those who abuse it would be punished,” Saunders said.

Saunders said the bill has a detailed outline of what patients must do in order to receive medical marijuana for severe health conditions. Floridians would be able to seek the help they need without becoming dependent on prescription drugs.

Furthermore, Saunders said, he wants the public to know that people who need medical cannabis wouldn’t be judged.

“People like Cathy Jordan, who have gathered here, are not criminals,” Saunders said. “They are some of our state’s most vulnerable, and they need our help.”

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the Medicinal Cannabis Act has good intentions of helping people with chronic conditions, but there’s a bigger picture.

“I’m opposed to this bill and to the amendment because I think they’re way too broad, and I think when you look at the unintended consequences, it’s a choice you have to look at,” Baxley said. “I have empathy for these folks who have serious issues that are kind of desperate for any answer … But out of our passion to meet their needs, we can’t ignore that we have a responsibility, that we’re doing a policy for the safety and care of 20 million people.”

The press conference was also an outlet for cancer survivors to tell their stories on how they benefited from medical cannabis.

“You’re also going to hear from some patients who benefited from medical cannabis, and you’re going to hear their story, which I think are far more important than anything I have to say,” Clemens said.

Cathy Jordan, whom the bill is named after,has been living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis for more than three decades and has been using cannabis to reduce the symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

“I was diagnosed in 1986,” Jordan said. “I was given three to five years. And then in ’89, I found cannabis … I’m very lucky. I also am a cancer survivor.”

Floridians will vote in November on the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, and from a recent poll, Saunders said, more than 80 percent of Florida voters are in favor of medicinal cannabis.  

“Three years ago, I sat on the other end of this rotunda and released the first ever medical marijuana bill in the state of Florida, and here we are, our fourth session after that and the discussion has changed completely, ” Clemens said.