An advocacy group is asking Florida’s Attorney General, Pam Bondi, to make it legal to prescribe medical marijuana in the state. The Cannabis Action Network presented Bondi’s staff with a petition on Tuesday morning.
Under Florida law, Bondi has 30 days to respond to the group’s request. Cannabis Action Network executive director Jodi James says, her group is asking Bondi to change marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I illegal drug in the state.
“Until the attorney general makes that decision, then everyone else’s hands are tied, including the medical community," James said.
James said, removing cannabis from the Schedule I list will allow Florida scientists to research its effects on cancer and let doctors prescribe it. If Bondi makes the change, the legislature will then have to pass new laws regulating the drug.
“That will allow the Florida Legislature to have a reasonable conversation about who qualifies as a patient and how we are going to make sure that they have access to their medicine," she said.
Eighteen other states and the District of Columbia already allow marijuana or cannabinoid oil to be used medicinally. And on Election Day, voters in Colorado and Washington chose to legalize it altogether. James said, growing scientific literature shows that marijuana does not fit the definition of a Schedule I drug under the law.
“You might note that a Schedule I drug has no medicinal value accepted in the United States," she said.
She said the designation also means the drug can’t be used safely under a doctor’s guidance and that there’s a high risk for abuse, neither of which apply to cannabis.
And Cannabis Action Network treasurer Robert Ohlwiler said, changing state policy could help Florida benefit economically from not having to put marijuana users in prison. He said, it costs about $20,000 per prisoner per year. And, Ohlwiler said, studies show that, whereas states profit from keeping violent criminals off of the streets, they lose money by incarcerating drug offenders.
“We need to revisit reducing penalties to be more in line with the crime and also to do a lot better return on investment for our taxpayers," he said.
Florida Cannabis Action Network president Catherine Jordan lives with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She said, she credits cannabis treatment with prolonging her life. She also said, her goal has always been not to be a criminal.
“Florida has a medical necessity defense, but I had to be arrested to use it," she said. "This is a life-and-death situation for me. And I do have a right to life.”
Meanwhile, some opponents of legalizing marijuana say, the medical benefits people get from its ingredients can be achieved through pills or sources.
Bondi could choose to change the classification for marijuana, leaving the issue to the legislature. Or she could refuse the group’s request. Or, finally, she could open up the issue for public input before making a decision.