While Florida awaits a referendum and dithers with its own medical marijuana law, one small California city is trying to lead the nation in compassionate distribution of the "miracle" plant.
Berkeley is going to give the product away to the poor.
It's true. The City Council of Berkeley, Calif., just passed an ordinance that requires medical marijuana dispensaries to set aside 2 percent of their product for low income individuals and families. Recipients, who must be Berkeley residents and make less than $32,000 a year ($46,000 for families of four) will receive the marijuana completely free of charge.
"That's the craziest thing I ever heard of," said Janelle Freeman, an Ocala mother of three who is opposed to marijuana of any sort being made legal in Florida. Leave it to California. "There are so many medicines out there that are tried and true and tested, and they certainly aren't free. How does pot get put ahead of all the others?"
According to examiner.com, which first reported the Berkeley story Monday, the bold move is the first of its kind in the world, and "shows that a city government acknowledges that marijuana is a medicine so potent and important that access to it needs to be ensured."
"It isn't right to get people's hopes up that some euphoric garden weed is suddenly going to cure everything they've got," said Freeman, who said she's begun to mobilize other mothers in opposition in Central and coastal Florida. "After all this hype, I don't know how we're going to keep our children safe and sober. I'm honestly afraid for them and for all of society."
Numerous studies have shown marijuana to be effective in treating dozens of serious conditions, from intractable epilepsy to virtually all forms of cancer to chronic illnesses like Lyme Disease. California doctors claim it's increasingly credited with causing "miracle" cures.
Medical marijuana is legal in the state of California, which passed Proposition 215 in 1996. But the price of pot there remains high. An ounce of high-quality marijuana goes for around $400, and a gram costs about $15, according to the site weedmaps.com, which also shows the location of Berkeleys legal marijuana dispensaries.
In approving the ordinance, city fathers argued that for low-income people with chronic illnesses who medicate with the herb, Berkeley's going prices can become barriers to access.
Those who qualify for free pot need a California medical marijuana card. Officially, the card is only given to those diagnosed with one of the 11 conditions approved by the California Department of Public Health. But the list also allows potential eligibility for anyone who suffers from a medical issue that could be classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. "This has opened up legal cannabis treatment to a wide range of patients -- in reality the medical marijuana card is quite easy to obtain," says examiner.com.
It doesn't make Janelle Freeman feel any better that Berkeley has only three legal dispensaries, which means the total amount of free pot will be limited. Nor does she take comfort that recipients also must provide a federal tax return or other proof of income before they are approved for the program.
"Thank God in our state the Florida Medical Association is dead set against the easy availability of medical marijuana," Freeman said.
But not all Floridians, including doctors, agree with the state medical association's position. One doctor in particular has said, "Willfully denying medicine we know works would be a violation of our oath."
Anne Lynn Morgan, M.D., of West Palm Beach, who has practiced family medicine for 29 years, is openly challenging the FMA for opposing Amendment 2. She claims there are many flaws in the association's logic -- "but one that particularly sticks out is their assertion that it would 'allow health care providers with absolutely no training in the ordering of controlled substances to order medical marijuana.'"
"Seriously?" she asks. "Florida allows physicians, such as myself, with a DEA Registration to order deadly, harmful, and addictive controlled substances for their patients, but it doubts our training to recommend something as relatively benign as marijuana to those who qualify?
"In fact, under Amendment 2, it may be far more difficult and complicated to recommend medical marijuana than Oxycontin or other highly addictive and deadly narcotics."
Morgan would no doubt acknowledge Florida's acceptance of medical marijuana is light years behind California's. But, hard as Freeman is working to bring awareness to her argument against it, Morgan is working just as hard to bring the state medical community to what she considers an important realization.
"The same organization that defended the doctor's right to prescribe large-scale pharmaceutical narcotics (that have killed and addicted thousands of Floridians)," Morgan says, "now wants to block a doctor's right to recommend medical marijuana, which has never killed even one person, and instead provides relief to those suffering from the effects of caustic treatments for cancer, AIDS, and HepC, while helping to treat epilepsy, severe neuropathic pain, PTSD, Crohn's Disease and other serious ailments and conditions."
Morgan makes her case and asks for help on the website UnitedforCare.org.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith