Michael Budzynski is pictured with his mother Marilyn at home in Eustis, Fl. on Friday, September 6, 2013. The 20 year old suffers from Dravet’s Syndrome, a devastating form of epilepsy, that will eventually kill him . Michael’s parents believe his pain and suffering would greatly improve with the use of medical marijuana. (Tom Benitez, Orlando Sentinel)
82 Percent of Voters in Florida Back Medical Marijuana
Almost everyone in the state of Florida supports the idea of medical marijuana. A new Quinnipiac poll found an incredible 82 percent of Florida voters think using marijuana for medical purposes should be legal with a doctor’s prescription. Only 16 percent oppose this change.
Medical marijuana has overwhelming support among every generation, partisan leaning, and ethnic group. Even 79 percent of senior citizens back medical marijuana and they tend to be the group least supportive of any marijuana reforms.
This strong support is good news because there is currently an effort underway to get a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana on the 2014 ballot. If the campaign succeeds it will need to be approved by at least 60 percent off voters to be adopted, which should be achievable based on this poll
The poll also found a narrow plurality support legalizing recreational cannabis, with 48 percent in support of legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and 48 percent opposed. On this issue there is a large generational divide. It has majority support of voters under the age of 65 but senior citizens oppose it 32-60. It is only a matter of time before a clear majority of the state backs full legalization.
Proponents say legalizing medical marijuana in Florida could help those suffering.
For 20-year-old Michael Budzynski, the good days are when he doesn't suffer the terrible seizures that ruined his mind, leaving him with the mental capacity of an 18-month-old.
On those days, the Eustis man isn't enduring migraines, and his restless leg isn't thrashing. His mother, Marilyn, sees glimpses of the bright, fearless little boy she knew before he was devastated by Dravet syndrome, a severe and incurable form of epilepsy that targets children.
She is convinced that medical marijuana — used successfully on 40 other people nationwide with the same syndrome — could give her son more good days. It's banned in Florida, but that could change if a statewide ballot initiative to make it legal succeeds.
"It gives me new hope that I haven't had in a long time. Our Michael has deteriorated to a miserable state," Marilyn Budzynski said. "We should not be denying people who could benefit from a chance at a better quality of life."
Medical marijuana has been legalized in 20 states and the District of Columbia for a wide range of medical conditions — cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and Lou Gehrig's disease, as well as epilepsy.
Although it's illegal under federal law, Justice Department officials have said that prosecuting medical-marijuana cases in states where it's legal is not a priority.
Orlando trial attorney John Morgan is championing the drive to make it legal in Florida through a state system that would license treatment centers and register patients. The petition drive, run by People United for Medical Marijuana, needs nearly 700,000 verified signatures by February to make it onto the November 2014 ballot. The group already has more than 100,000 signatures, enough to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of the ballot language.
Opponents counter that medical marijuana could pave the way for recreational use and further drug abuse.
Morgan said medical marijuana helps his brother, Tim, a quadriplegic who would otherwise take eight Percocets a day to relieve severe spasms. He saw how it eased the pain for his father, who died 25 years ago this week from cancer and emphysema.
"I know it works, and I know if it became legal in Florida, it would help tens of thousands of people," Morgan said. "Why would we deny someone who is terminally ill the most compassion and the most mercy at the end of their lives?"
Anecdotal evidence and a growing body of studies show medical benefits from marijuana as a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory drug that is less addictive and has fewer side effects than other pain medications already available by prescription.
However, opponents of legalization question the medical benefits of marijuana. The Florida Medical Association is opposed to medical marijuana and advises doctors to refrain from prescribing it unless its use is approved in the future by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Florida Police Chiefs Association also remains opposed to legalization. Such a change could open opportunities for abuse, addiction and crimes related to marijuana use, the association contends.
"As a career law-enforcement officer, I do not want to have to deal with the effects that impaired individuals cause to other people," said Philip Thorne, chief of police in the Panhandle town of Springfield and president of the police-chiefs organization. "It creates all kind of issues associated with marijuana in general.
"Everybody and their brother would abuse the system to get marijuana."
Florida proponents want to set up a tightly controlled system to regulate the use of medical marijuana, hoping not to repeat problems with California's law, which is more lax.
The Florida referendum would require special ID cards for patients who receive physician's prescriptions to buy the drug through state-licensed treatment centers. The proposal would not allow people to grow their own.
"They don't want California, where with a wink and a nod, a witch doctor could give out a prescription," Morgan said. "People are OK with it, but they want it highly regulated."
One of the biggest arguments against marijuana legalization is its potential as a "gateway" drug, in which marijuana users progress to more addictive illegal drugs, such as heroin or cocaine.
But Morgan strongly disputes that characterization.
"For people with cancer, the nausea is debilitating, and the pills they give you don't work. But marijuana works," he said. "The only gateway drug for these people is the morphine they will receive at hospice."
Mary Anne Meskis, executive director of the Dravet Syndrome Foundation, said the concern about medical marijuana as a gateway drug also doesn't apply to patients such as Michael Budzynski who suffer from extreme seizures.
"Our kids will never lead a normal life," Meskis said. "They will never be out and about trying recreational drugs"
BY MARC CAPUTO
If a medical marijuana initiative makes Florida’s ballot next year, it could pass with an astonishing 82 percent of the vote, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday that finds voters also favor outright legalization as well.
Support for the proposed constitutional amendment is strong among voters of every political stripe, age and income level, with independents lending the most support: 88 percent, the poll shows.
The overall 82-16 percent support for medical marijuana is the biggest to date. The previous high-point for Florida approval was about 70 percent in a poll taken earlier this year by the medical-marijuana advocacy group, People United for Medical Marijuana.
There are some differences in wording between the initiative and the Quinnipiac poll; the amendment says doctors can "recommend" marijuana, the poll asks if a doctor should be able to "prescribe" it.
Still, medical marijuana is clearly popular. And marijuana legalization is becoming more-liked as well, albeit narrowly.
Nearly half of Florida voters favor it — 48 percent — while 46 percent oppose pot legalization for personal use. That’s within the margin of error, but it’s a leading indicator of a shift in public opinion. Support for legalization is again strongest among independents (57-37 percent), and then Democrats (55-39 percent).
But Republicans are opposed 30-64 percent. Contrast that with GOP voter support for medical marijuana is solid: 70-26 percent.
One early poll and analysis from People United found that medical-marijuana was so popular that it could alter the course of the governor’s race.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott opposes medical marijuana; Democrats Charlie Crist and Nan Rich support the initiative, which is funded and led by Crist’s employer, trial attorney John Morgan, a Democratic donor. A major Florida Republican donor, former ambassador Mel Sembler, is opposing the measure through his Drug Free America Foundation.
In the race for governor, the Quinnipiac poll found Scott trailed Crist poll by 7 percentage points, 40-47 percent. That’s an improvement for Scott, however, compared to the last Quinnipiac Poll in June, when the governor trailed by 10 percentage points.
Since Quinnipiac’s last poll in June, Crist has lost some standing among independent voters. One possible reason: As soon as the former governor announced he was running for office, Scott began attacking him in television ads that began running a full year before the election.
As for medical marijuana’s fate, the proposed amendment — which takes 60 percent voter approval to pass in Florida — appears to be on an easy path to victory at the moment. But only if it makes the ballot.
The Florida legislative leaders and the state’s Attorney General want the state Supreme Court to block the measure from the ballot, saying the ballot summary is misleading and that it violates a rule that limits the scope of a constitutional amendment to a single subject. People United for Medical Marijuana, the advocacy group pushing the measure, say the criticisms are false.
“This poll shows yet again that Floridians overwhelmingly support a compassionate medical marijuana policy in Florida, despite the continued opposition of out-of-touch, Tallahassee politicians like Pam Bondi,” said Ben Pollara, treasurer for People United.
The Florida Supreme Court will hear the matter next month.
Even if it passes constitutional muster, People United needs to collect 683,149 verified voter signatures by February. People United has gathered 200,000 so far, of which more than 110,000 had been verified last month.
In November, Miami Beach voters approved a non-binding straw poll calling for medical marijuana by 64 percent.
A number of critics are starting to more actively denounce the measure in Florida.
Grady Judd, Polk County’s sheriff and the head of the Florida Sheriffs Association, likened marijuana to more dangerous drugs and pointed criticisms about the effectiveness of marijuana as medicine from the Florida Medical Association, American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
“Lawmakers and law enforcement have worked tirelessly to get Florida’s crime rate to its current 42-year low,” Judd said in a statement. “Let’s not roll back that progress by legalizing a drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”