Public support brings herbal relief to the November ballot
Illustration by Emma Roulette
Marijuana supporters and enthusiasts are rejoicing at the beginning of the new year as the prospects of legalization grow nearer and nearer.
On Jan. 27, the Florida Supreme Court approved the language of a new medical marijuana bill that would allow doctors to prescribe the popular drug to patients with “debilitating medical conditions.” Floridians will be able to vote on this issue this coming election in November.
With over 70 percent of registered voters in Florida supporting medical marijuana, according to StPetePolls.org, it seems that medical marijuana may soon be a reality in Gainesville–a city with its own strain, Gainesville Green. In the ‘70s and ’80s, Gainesville was reknown for being marijuana-friendly. Students would openly toke in Plaza of the Americas; Hempfest in Bo Diddley Community Plaza featured a doobie toss.
Kristen Burns, president of the University of Florida chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, believes there is a high likelihood of the medical marijuana bill being passed.
“I think it’s very possible,” Burns said. “There’s enough push and motivation [as] people become more and more aware.”
Recently, marijuana has had a sharp increase in support, which could be attributed to the recent passings of recreational marijuana bills out west.
Burns is not alone in believing that prohibition may soon come to an end in Florida. Both High Times and Vice, two counter-culture publications, are already declaring Florida the first state in the South to legalize marijuana.
“People are seeing the reality of what legalization would bring,” Burns said. “It’s what the people want, and the people get what they want–that’s America.
Through NORML, Burns has connected with many UF students who use marijuana for medical purposes.
“Everyone can benefit,” she said, citing some of marijuana’s medicinal benefits. “If you have a tummy ache, [weed] will make it go away. Or it can help with depression, which many people deal with.”
One member of NORML, who uses medical marijuana, agreed to an anonymous interview. Alex uses medical marijuana to alleviate pain in one of his legs, due to low blood pressure caused by Klippel-Trènaunay-Weber syndrome.
“Marijuana helps alleviate the problem,” Alex said. “It helps me internalize and control the pain, even when I’m not under the influence.”
Marijuana is known to greatly relieve symptoms caused from multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, chemotherapy and more. For Alex, the high from marijuana gives him the effect of “internalization,” as he put it.
“Your inner consciousness knows how it works better by internalizing reality,” he said. “You can understand your problems, such as pain, better.”
Just as marijuana appears to have some healing effects, some people argue that it could possibly heal the country’s slowed economic growth. In Colorado, one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, the first week of marijuana sales churned $5 billion in sales.
Likewise, Burns believes that medical marijuana could stimulate the local economy in Gainesville.
“Smoke shops will see an increase in business,” she said. (Not to mention, the whole munchies thing would probably be driving some extra business to local restaurants, as well).
Despite medical marijuana having overwhelming support in Florida, both the sale and consumption of the substance is illegal at the federal level. Dr. Kevin Sabet, director of the UF Drug Policy Institute and dubbed “legalization enemy No. 1” by Rolling Stone Magazine, advocates to keep marijuana illegal for all uses.
“We don’t want another big tobacco industry,” Sabet said. He said that marijuana legalization would create a new industry that profits off of a consumer base that is addicted to their product.
Sabet helped create the UF Drug Policy Institute about a year ago, which is a new segment of the Department of Psychiatry that focuses on providing evidence-based advice on drug policy to lawmakers and the general public. Sabet also used to be the senior drug policy adviser under the Obama administration from 2009 to 2011 and wrote a book about marijuana titled “Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana.”
“It’s a very poorly written bill,” Sabel said. “That was not written by medical association but a trial lawyer.”
Sabet cites studies conducted in areas where marijuana is legalized that conclude there is an overall increase in marijuana use.
“We don’t want dispensaries popping around the community,” he said. “Do you want a pot shop in your backyard or on the way to your kid’s school?”
Legalization may give rise to problems in the community, such as the use of pot among minors or out-of-state tourists, and the sale or distribution of pot to non-patients. The Gainesville Police Department declined to answer when asked about how these problems would be addressed if the medical marijuana bill passed.
Although Sabet believes using marijuana should be illegal, he doesn’t think users should be subject to criminal penalty, especially first-time users.
“We have treatment options, interventions, and obviously not everyone needs treatment,” he said. “We can have much better policies than [what we are currently doing] and legalization.”
In spite of such problems, advocates firmly believe that legalizing marijuana will bring more good than bad.
“People have a skewed opinion of marijuana simply because it’s illegal,” Burns said. “Once it’s been in place for a year, people will change their minds.”
Alex echoed Burns’ sentiment, and said he believes marijuana is stigmatized because many people see its use as hedonistic.
“Ending marijuana prohibition would provide opportunities for people to understand marijuana rather than casting doubts on any use at all,” he said. “Its use can be medicinal, even spiritual.”