Lakeland Discussion Brings Together Both Sides Of Medical Marijuana Debate

On Thursday, August 28, 2014, residents of Lakeland, Florida, were treated to an insightful and thought provoking discussion panel about the pending ballot initiative in Florida which would legalize medical marijuana. Organized by local newspaper, The Lakeland Ledger, the panel featured leading proponents and opponents of the medical marijuana bill, also known as Amendment 2.

The members of the panel were:  Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd; John Morgan, medical cannabis proponent and injury lawyer; Irvin Rosenfeld, Fort Lauderdale stock broker and one of the only few remaining federal medical marijuana patients; Dr. Jessica Spencer, substance abuse counselor and leader of the Vote No on 2 campaign; Dr. Sergio Seoane, a doctor from Lakeland; and Dr. Jeffrey Reddout, a psychologist from Winterhaven.

The 90 minute discussion panel opened with prepared statements from each panelist, and was followed by audience-submitted questions. Here are some of the highlights:

  • In his opening statement, Dr. Seoane stated that marijuana shrinks your brain and makes men’s breasts bigger. This was met with uproarious laughter from mostly pro-medical marijuana audience.
  • Dr. Spencer argued in her opening statements that the medical marijuana amendment was flawed because there are no specific bans on minor consumption, and there are no zoning restrictions. The crux of her argument was based not on the idea that medical marijuana was bad per se, but rather that the text of this amendment made it hard to properly regulate.  As she put it “Please remember, a ‘yes’ vote on this is forever.  ‘No’ is, ‘Not right now.’ ”
  • John Morgan argued that voting yes on Amendment 2 was a vote in favor of compassion. He told emotionally charged stories about how medical marijuana has helped friends and family. Morgan ridiculed Dr. Seoane’s statement about cannabis giving men larger breasts, saying “Do you think someone on hospice cares about their breast size?”
  • Judd more or less echoed Dr. Spencer’s argument that the wording of the bill was far too vague, and was bereft with loopholes. He argued that there would be “unforeseen consequences” from passing Amendment 2, claiming dispensaries would become like pill mills.
  • Judd also cited a specious statistic that claims that marijuana use among teens increases in medical marijuana states, a claim which was refuted by Dr. Reddout later in the debate.  As neither cited a specific statistic, we cannot fact check either although recent reports out of Colorado seem to support Dr. Reddout.
  • When asked how smoking marijuana could be medicine, Rosenfeld replied by saying his 40+ years of using medicinal cannabis proves that it works. He also cited an academic study where a doctor set out to prove that marijuana caused cancer, but found no evidence of such a link. Because Rosenfeld did not name the specific study, we cannot fact check this statement; however, there are other studies which support this conclusion.
  • Of all the panelists, Dr. Reddout was the most objective, stating there are some benefits and there are some negative effects. He was cautiously optimistic about medical marijuana, but agrees more research should be done.
  • When questioned about the efficacy of Marinol and the already legal strain of marijuana, Charlotte’s Web, Morgan responded by saying under that logic, why do we have so many different kinds of pain pills if they all do the same thing? The answer is they all have different effects; and the same is true with marijuana. Marinol and Charlotte’s Web only treat a limited number of illnesses.

 

As the panelists gave their closing remarks, they reiterated their positions. The anti-medical marijuana panelists criticized the bill’s vague wording, while the medical marijuana proponents argued that the bill will ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Floridians.

Dr. Spencer and Seoane were the most disappointing panelists. Dr. Spencer stayed close to her script, rebuffed each question with “well I already covered that in my opening statement,” and was combative with the audience, even going so far as to chastise them for their support of the bill. Dr. Seoane made few coherent or convincing arguments and relied on flimsy evidence and logic.

Surprisingly, Judd was amiable, charismatic and promised to carry out the will of the people regardless of his feelings on the matter. One gets the feeling that he genuinely believes in his role as sheriff and you have to respect that.

Morgan and Rosenfeld made many compelling arguments, although many were emotional arguments for compassion. It is disappointing how much they relied on emotion, especially when there is enough evidence to argue for medical marijuana without an emotional appeal.

Dr. Reddout was the most engaging of the panelists. His playful and sardonic tone was refreshing, as was his fact-based approach to marijuana. One might infer that he favors medical marijuana, but you could tell that he did not have an entrenched interest like the other panelists.

Even though few minds were changed, one could argue the discussion panel was a success. For the first time in Florida, marijuana supporters were treated as equals in the debate, as opposed to some fringe element. In this age of polarized politics, it is refreshing to see that two diametrically opposed parties can come together, disagree and still express feelings of admiration and respect for one another.

Want to watch the discussion and decide for yourself? Click here to listen to the discussion in its entirety.

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