Student Orgs Sponsor Panel Discussion on Legalization of Medical Marijuana in Florida

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Miami Law’s American Civil Liberties Union, Democratic Law Student Association, and Health Law Association recently hosted a panel of high-profile attorneys who discussed a petition which would see the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use throughout Florida. The event was also co-sponsored by the national lobbyist and law firm based in Denver, Colorado of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and was held in the Shalala Student Center.

The Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions petition, also called Amendment 2, which is up for vote this election day, would allow the use of marijuana for patients with medical conditions who would benefit from the drug based on physician recommendations. The petition is expected to pass, currently polling with around 70% in favor.

The first panelist was Andrew Freedman, a Harvard Law graduate who helped to win a $45 million grant for early childhood education as Lt. Governor Joe Garcia’s Chief of Staff in Colorado. He is now Colorado’s first ever Director of Marijuana Coordination.

Freedman emphasized the opportunity to engage with youth arising from the general shift in viewpoint on marijuana in recent years. “We have the ability to rethink what our conversation with youth is,” he noted. “If we do that in combination with good after-school programming and health sessions in school, I think we can make an impact on youth use of marijuana.”

Another panelist was the Honorable Alex Ferrer, a Miami Law alumnus who was once the youngest circuit court judge in the largest trial court in Florida at age 34, and, until recently, the host of the popular television show “Judge Alex.”

Judge Ferrer, who has a family member that would attest to the effectiveness of medical marijuana use, is weary of the potential for misuse. “Most of the cries for medical marijuana aren’t coming from the people who need it medically; they’re coming from people who want it legalized [recreationally]. It’s going to be very difficult to keep that trap door shut when there’s the desire to legalize it, and you have language that basically makes it easy for doctors to sign off.”

“I think there were a lot of very interesting issues raised by this event,” said Miami Law Assistant Dean for Professional Development William P. VanderWyden III. “The panelists gave us a lot of insight as to the questions that might come to the fore in the next years as this will likely be implemented in the state of Florida.”

Raymer Maguire, another of the four panelists, defended the petition throughout the discussion. Maguire is the Deputy Campaign Manager for United for Care, the organization that crafted the medical marijuana petition.

He alleviated some concerns by confirming that Amendment 2 does not include “homegrown” provisions, which have proven problematic in Colorado, where it is legal for citizens to grow up to 99 marijuana plants in their homes.

“When you have people growing 99 plants and producing pounds themselves at a very low price point, the economics are there; they can make a lot of money by shipping those out,” Maguire pointed out. “The only way people will be able to legally purchase marijuana in Florida is through a licensed medical marijuana treatment center, which has built in the cost of growing it, their profit margin. It’s taxed.”

Maguire further defended the petition stating that regulation of medical marijuana would be firm and well-controlled. “The department of health has the ability, in our petition, to set any regulations they see fit. Whether that’s passive background checks, limiting the number of patients that [dispensaries] can serve, all of that is in the power of the Department of Health.”
In addition to all the treatment benefits, the passing of Amendment 2 would open the door to conducting research on the effects of marijuana in Florida, including at universities like UM. Patrick O’Rourke, the fourth panelist, commented on the importance of this. “Research is necessary. Right now, there are not sufficient studies out there that allow us to answer what the potential benefits of marijuana are as well as to be able assess the risks.”

O’Rourke, a high-profile attorney who was once a finalist for a vacancy on the Colorado Supreme Court, is now a member of the legal counsel team at the University of Colorado.
The University of Colorado attorney complained about the many hurdles that must be overcome to engage in this type of research. “The regulatory framework on doing that research is abysmal,” he said. “Our researchers are very frustrated.”

One issue lies in the fact that getting DEA approval for marijuana research can be a long and arduous process, and, even if approval is granted, there is currently only one approved site which disperses marijuana for research purposes, the University of Mississippi. Furthermore, the university is only growing a limited number of strains, lacking critical strains that researchers wish to study.

“We’ve created a loop," O’Rourke said, "where the federal government is saying there’s not enough evidence to be able to reclassify [marijuana from a schedule I to schedule II controlled substance], yet you haven’t been able to research for that decision to be made. That’s something that has to change from a policy perspective.”