Florida seniors increasingly support medical marijuana, poll says

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Medical marijuana is gaining support among Florida seniors, part of a growing demographic of voters that intend to vote for Amendment 2 in November.

Many of the Baby Boomer-and-older crowd — who usually do not approve of recreational cannabis use — say people shouldn’t be made to suffer when help is available.

In a spring Quinnipiac University poll, an overwhelming 84 percent of Floridians older than 65 support the measure, part of an overall 88 percent of voters who back the legalization of medical marijuana to treat a number of diseases.

Amendments to the Florida Constitution need 60 percent of the vote.

Graying residents are no stranger to pot; the same survey found that 62 percent of respondents ages 50 to 64 have admitted to smoking pot at one time, the largest of any demographic.

Joan Crutcher, 60, tells Britt Kennerly of FLORIDA TODAY that when she was a teen, she was told that marijuana was  a “gateway drug,” leading to much harder drugs.

That didn’t happen, Crutcher says, adding that “palliative effects and health benefits that cover a long list of ailments, medical marijuana at the very least needs to be legalized in Florida.”

“What we’re hearing from older voters is not a lot different from the electorate as a whole,” according to Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United For Care, the group behind the initiative landing on the ballot. United For Care is mostly financed by Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, a supporter of likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist. At one time, Crist worked at Morgan’s law firm.

“For the most part, it’s not a controversial topic. … If their doctor recommends a particular treatment plan, whether it’s a medication regimen, a new diet, exercise, yoga or medical marijuana,” Pollara told FLORIDA TODAY, “they should be able to follow their doctor’s orders without being treated like a criminal.”

Among those opposing Amendment 2 are the Florida Sheriffs Association, as well as Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey, the Florida Medical Association, many Republican leaders and Gov. Rick Scott.

“I can say that from my experience and my background in health care, whenever you mix politics and health care, it’s a disaster,” said former Brevard GOP chair John Anderson, 87, a retired nurse  anesthetist.

“People who are talking have no idea about the pharmacology or the pharmaceutical-therapeutic dynamics of any drug, whether it’s aspirin or some fancy beta blocker,” Anderson added. “They’re just talking based on what they heard somebody say. … There are many people who think marijuana relieves pain.

“Marijuana is not an analgesic. You get more pain relief from an aspirin than marijuana, if you’re talking about it in that sense.”

Melbourne Beach resident Tripp Spring, 63, is vice president of Florida Cannabis Action Network, a nonprofit which recently became a member of the Cocoa Beach Chamber of Commerce.

FCAN’s concerns, Spring said, is voter confusion over “Charlotte’s Web,” the low-potency marijuana extract that is supposed to reduce epileptic seizures in children. Last month, Scott signed the bill to legalize the use of that strain, although he still opposes Amendment 2.

“We were at the forefront in getting that done,” said Spring of the Charlotte’s Web legislation. “We wanted to help people right away. But now, one of our fears is that people will think, ‘OK, it’s done,’ and won’t vote. It’s not done.”

Members of the Brevard County Medical Society recently passed a unanimous resolution opposing Amendment 2, said BCMS president Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos, who also serves as a spokesperson for the Sheriffs Association’s “Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot” movement.

“I would never prescribe pot to one of my patients, nor have I ever heard one of my colleagues say they would prescribe it,” she said. “Besides, there is an FDA-approved medication called Marinol that can help cancer and AIDS patients with their appetite and nausea, and there are other meds that can be used for chronic pain.”

However, seniors like Mary Greene have already made her decision.

Green was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis about 10 years ago, and now she lives in constant pain and refuses to be heavily medicated. Green hopes that medical marijuana can help her deal with her condition.

“I think that if it’s an important issue, you should take a stand one way or another,” she said.

“And you should be willing to stand behind it so long as you educate yourself, so that you can give an informed response — not just ‘because.’ ”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.