by John B. Morgan
Special to the Tampa Bay Times
Something unprecedented happened in Tallahassee this week. The Florida House of Representatives quit three days early. They just threw up their hands and stopped working. I'm incredulous, but maybe I shouldn't be.

These are the same people who, for years, refused to even give a hearing to medical marijuana legislation in Florida. These are the same people who then, once medical marijuana was on the ballot, had the gall to say it should be passed legislatively, rather than by constitutional amendment. These are the same people who, staring down a ballot measure, finally passed what they call a "medical marijuana law" but wrote it so hastily that a year later it still hasn't been implemented.

Anyone who knows me knows two things about me: I keep my word and I never quit. It is simply not who I am. It is not who I raised my kids to be. I've recently become a grandfather, and it is not who I want my grandson to be.

I am going to keep my word and push to pass a medical marijuana law that helps sick and suffering Floridians. And I am not going to quit until that happens.

I took up this cause for my brother, who has spent his entire adult life in a wheelchair, in severe pain, and who only has a normal life because of medical marijuana. But medical marijuana quickly became an issue that is larger than my family. It's about all of our families.

When I first became a public advocate for medical marijuana, people immediately started telling me their stories. A father whose 8-year-old daughter has hundreds of seizures a day and none of the drugs work. A mother who is stricken with cancer but doesn't want to try marijuana to relieve her suffering because she's afraid she might get arrested and lose her children. A wife, given a death sentence by an ALS diagnosis, who is still alive nearly three decades later because her husband grows and administers marijuana for her illegally.

Those are the stories of the present, of people who need this law right now. But this is just as much for me about the future. Like me, everyone deserves an opportunity to give their children and grandchildren a better life than we had. Our children and grandchildren deserve the ability to live in a state where they can have safe, reliable access to medical marijuana should their doctors recommend its use.

I have to believe the politicians in Tallahassee were not thinking about this like I do, through the lens of family, because if they were, passing a sensible medical marijuana law would have been a no-brainer.

I cannot believe they call this working. If my kids showed this kind of work ethic in school, they would have been grounded. And guess what? I would have drug-tested them too. I run a big law firm, with hundreds of employees. If someone who worked for me said to me on Tuesday that they weren't showing up for work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I'd tell them not to come back Monday.

There are a few courageous Republican and Democratic legislators who tried valiantly to bring compassion to Florida. Unfortunately, in Tallahassee, the power of the pharmaceutical industry and the special interests are proving more powerful than the people.

The people don't have a vote in Tallahassee, but they do have a vote in November 2016. Medical marijuana will be back on the ballot, and we will get the law we deserve.

Compassion is coming to the great state of Florida, as it has in 23 other states plus Washington, D.C. I plan to lead this march to victory as long as it takes.

Last fall we almost won. Nearly 3.4 million Floridians voted "yes" for medical marijuana, totaling 58 percent of the vote in favor. That's usually a win. Medical marijuana received a half-million more votes than Rick Scott and more than any other elected official on the ballot. This time around, we will not only win a broad majority, we will win a majority larger than 60 percent, and medical marijuana will become the law of the land.

Politicians in Tallahassee may not want to work. So be it. We will do their work for them. We will do their work, for the people, for the patients, for our families.

John B. Morgan is the managing partner of the Morgan & Morgan law firm and the Chairman of the medical marijuana advocacy group, United for Care. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.



 
 

Congress made history yesterday. With a 56-40 bipartisan vote, the Senate approved a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending package that will keep keep the government running through the next fiscal year. But beyond avoiding another government shutdown, the billincludes an amendment that will effectively block the Department of Justice from arresting or prosecuting anyone who sells or uses medical marijuana in the 32 states that currently have some type of medical pot law on the books.

The so-called "cromnibus" bill — which still requires President Barack Obama's signature before it officially becomes the law of the land — will likely affect several pending federal criminal cases, and almost certainly make DEA raids of law-abiding dispensaries a thing of the past. The legislation also stands to derail civil asset forfeiture cases in California, where federal prosecutors have used the tactic in attempt to shutter dispensaries in the Bay Area and Orange County.

The new rules also contain protections for industrial hemp, the production of which has been legalized in 18 states and is being considered by more than a dozen others. Obama approved a law in February that sanctioned state-level industrial hemp production, but just three months later the DEA nevertheless seized a batch of hemp seeds in Kentucky.

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"We applaud this Congress for doing the right thing by protecting the rights of patients, and ending a years-long attack on the medical marijuana community," Mike Liszewski, government affairs director with Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy organization, said in a statement. "By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for a change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws."

The weed amendment, first approved by the House in May, was co-sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Reps. Rohrabacher (R-Calf.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Steve Stockman (R-Texas), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). The language specifically blocks the use of DOJ funds to "prevent [medical marijuana states] from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." 

According to Americans for Safe Access, the Obama administration has spent roughly $300 million on enforcement in medical marijuana states since the president took office.

"The federal government will finally respect the decisions made by the majority of states that passed medical marijuana laws," Rep. Sam Farr told the Huffington Post following the Senate vote. "This is great day for common sense because now our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on prosecuting criminals and not sick patients."

If Obama signs the spending bill as expected, the DOJ de-funding measure is scheduled to remain in effect until the end of the current fiscal year, which falls on September 30, 2015. In the meantime, medical pot advocates are working to formalize the policy with standalone legislation. One proposal — HR 689, the "States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act" — would remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I controlled substances (where it currently sits alongside heroin, LSD, and other drugs with "no currently accepted medical use"), and allow funding for therapeutic research.

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"This is a great day for patients and for public safety," Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said in a statement. "Congress has finally listened to the vast majority of Americans who believe the federal government has no right to interfere in the personal decision to use medical marijuana made by a patient in consultation with his or her doctor."

The spending bill contains language that complicates marijuana legalization in Washington, DC, but the weed amendment does not affect the three states that have legalized recreational marijuana use and sales: Washington, Colorado, and, most recently, Oregon. 

Federal drug laws still stand in direct conflict with state laws that sanction marijuana use, and the DOJ — which oversees the DEA — will still be able to prosecute people for many types of marijuana-related crimes. The spending bill changes also fail to provide relief for medical marijuana business owners who are unable to use deposit their proceeds in banks due to current federal regulations.

"We're very encouraged to see Congress begin to take some legit steps to resolving the state and federal conflict with marijuana law," Erik Altieri, spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told VICE News earlier this week. "There are issues that still need to be resolved with banking and taxation, but this at least shows they can come together in a bipartisan way and stop raiding state-approved medical marijuana."

VICE News reporter Colleen Curry contributed to this article.

Follow Keegan Hamilton on Twitter: @keegan_hamilton