Editorial: Nancy was right: Just say no

Ben Pollara recently made a final lap of newspapers around Florida urging support for his cause: ratification of Amendment 2, the medical marijuana ballot measure.
 
It seemed, with some justification, more like a victory lap when Pollara, spokesman for United for Care, the primary supporters of medical pot, visited The Ledger last week.
 
Narrowly defeated in 2014, Amendment 2 faces no meaningful opposition this November.
 
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi passed on a fight keep it off the ballot. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a forceful critic of medical pot two years ago, has remained somewhat silent.
 
Moreover, Pollara reports that his group’s internal polling shows 77 percent support — 17 percentage points above the 60 percent needed for adoption.
 
We realize, based on the above, that we are an increasingly isolated voice in this debate, but as occurred in 2014, we cannot support Amendment 2 and urge voters to, borrowing from the late Nancy Reagan, just say no.
 
To its credit, United for Care has tightened much of the loose language that we objected to in 2014.

The group closed a loophole that allowed pot to be prescribed for undefined “other” conditions besides those specified in the amendment. Caregivers are more narrowly defined in the new amendment, and the language empowers the state Health Department to set the number of aides a patient may have, and vice versa. The new version also spells out that parental and physician consent is required for minors to obtain patient identification cards, and mandates appropriate background checks for caregivers.
 
Each of those is a positive step. But our main concerns remain.
 
How will making marijuana more prevalent keep it out of the hands of children who are not patients? Pollara oddly sought to reassure us by suggesting students already know how to obtain pot. He also noted that in Colorado, where recreational use is legal, teen usage has not changed. Additionally, he maintained that there has never been a documented death from a marijuana-related overdose.
 
That may be, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that 60,000 children nationwide are hospitalized each year for drug overdoses related to pilfering an adult’s prescribed medication. How can we know pot, when in a form resembling other medicines, will be adequately safeguarded?
 
Pollara conceded that law enforcement officers lack the equivalent of a Breathalyzer to gauge whether someone is pot-impaired, but indicated that he trusted their training to spot them. But without an invasive, and likely unconstitutional, blood or urine test, how will we know? Let’s hope no one is killed before we find out.
 
Finally, Pollara also concurred that a doctor’s knowledge of how much pot to prescribe will be determined not by research but by trial and error, and based on the patient’s tolerance. How will we know how much a patient can tolerate if they have never used pot before until they actually start ingesting it? Doctors, because of extensive research, already understand the side effects of most prescription drugs. We shouldn’t be so smug to assume that the only side effect of pot is the munchies.
 
Two years ago New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd visited Denver to experiment with Colorado’s legal pot. She ate a pot-laced candy bar and recalled remaining in a “hallucinatory state” for eight hours.

“I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing,” wrote Dowd, whose candy wrapper was without warnings or instruction. “As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.”
 
She further noted the sad fate of two novice pot users: a 19-year-old Wyoming college student leapt off a Denver hotel balcony after eating a marijuana cookie and a man who consumed pot candy and shot and killed his wife while she was on the phone 9-1-1 after he freaked out.
 
Pollara said drugmakers are conducting clinical trials. Why can’t we wait until we know the results before proceeding?
 
Pollara’s answer to that: “People are sick and suffering now, and can benefit from it now.” He also pointed out that drug trials should have been conducted decades ago, but were inhibited because the federal government continues — as the Drug Enforcement Administration upheld last month — to classify pot as a Schedule I drug, the same class with heroin and cocaine.
 
We agree with Pollara on that. Which is why Congress should notice the shift in attitudes on marijuana nationally and send President Barack Obama a bill offered by Reps. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, and Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, that would relax laws on marijuana production to promote its study for medical purposes.
 
We don’t want to appear cruel or insensitive to suffering. But while the amendment’s backers have made great strides from two years ago, we believe the broader implications for public safety remain greatly unknown and deserve more consideration and research before we empower doctors to dispense it.

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