Tug-of-war continues over medical marijuana and “pot shops” in Florida

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With the ideological tug-of-war has become the medical marijuana debate in Florida, claims and counter-claims fly freely over what is the exact meaning of the language contained in Amendment 2.

Opponents of the measure are now declaring there is “clear proof” of a blatant ambiguity in the proposal, in what they call the “pill mill loophole.”

In a press release from the “Vote No on 2” campaign, the group warns voters that if the amendment passes, “there will be zero restrictions on the locations that seedy pot shops can operate.”

Like pill mills, they add, pot stores “will spring up next to restaurants, schools, churches and supermarkets.”

“Our state already faced one epidemic – the pill mill crisis – that encouraged unscrupulous doctors and bad actors to open up shop in our neighborhoods and communities,” said Brevard County Medical Society President Stephanie Haridopolos, a board certified family practitioner.  “If this Amendment is approved, it will only serve to invite this same disreputable ilk to open up shop in Florida; but, instead of pill mills, we’ll call them pot docs.”

Even alcohol sales are prohibited within certain distances of schools, they say, but under this ballot language, not medical marijuana stores. Nowhere in Amendment 2 lists prohibitions on the sale of pot.

Supporters of medical marijuana, such as the People United for Medical Marijuana, which sponsored the initiative, say the “pill mill loophole” is baseless.

They counter that the Florida Legislature will address this concern through subsequent “protective laws” and implementing the regulatory structure after the Amendment passes. In addition, the Florida Department of Health will have the responsibility to issuing detailed regulations regarding physician examination requirements, the application process and qualification requirements for caregivers.

In addition, the State of Florida’s office of Economic and Demographic Research had addressed this issue. They found between the physician examination requirement, the application process with the DOH, the regulatory structure and subsequent protective laws that may be passed by the legislature would make a “pill mill” scenario extremely unlikely.

Nevertheless, the Vote No on 2 crowd will not be easily discouraged.

“As a mother, I do not want to see Florida go down the same path it did with pill mills and have pot docs dispensing drugs next to my children’s school,” Haridopolos said.  “And, as a medical practitioner, I know I will not recommend pot to my patients for any purpose, nor do I know of any credible, responsible medical doctor that will.”

 “Before heading to the polls,” she concludes, “I encourage all Floridians to take a closer look at the loopholes contained in Amendment 2 because my first duty is to ‘do no harm,’ and I truly believe these loopholes will only bring harm to our great state and our fellow Floridians.”

Ben Pollara, Campaign Manager of United for Care — the leading pro-Amendment 2 organization — points out that the Vote No on 2 group is financed by some questionable anti-drug activists at Drug Free Florida.

“When it comes to the credibility of anything that comes from Drug Free Florida, it’s best to consider the source,” Pollara says in the United for Care website. “The organization is chaired by Carlton Turner, a former Reagan-era drug policy aide who had to abandon his position following his statements on marijuana leading to homosexuality. If his views were too extreme for the Reagan administration in 1986, how can we take anything he or his organization says seriously?”

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.