SOUTHWEST FLORIDA - A potential amendment on medical marijuana is being debated in the state supreme court, which is the usual procedure. And if the judges sign off on it, you could be checking the question off your ballot next November.
In part two of this special report, 4 In Your Corner's Liza Fernandez looks into the chances medical marijuana could actually become legal in Florida.
It's no secret -- Florida's population is older. And it's that generation, spending their sunset years in the sunshine state who could make the difference for medical marijuana. So we sat down for a round table talk with 80 and 90 year olds and asked them if they could see themselves as smoking seniors. The answer might surprise you.
A visit to Gulf Coast Village Retirement community in Cape Coral certainly seems like a party. But the truth is, some of its more than 300 residents are here for end of life care as well.
"We see a lot of people suffering with pain on a daily basis," says executive director Kevin Ahmadi. And he says medical marijuana has sparked quite the buzz on campus: "Recently I've had a lot of residents approach me expressing their wish to have access to see if it does have some benefits to meet some of their ongoing medical needs."
On a different campus, that of Edison State College, political science professor Dr. Laura Weir tells me the older generation could really make the difference for the medical marijuana amendmnent next November.
"This is going to be a very, very popular vote for senior citizens. It really would be used as a substitute in really dramatic chronic diseases that are associated with end-of-life situations or long-tern catastrophic diseases such as ALS or cancer. And these are really diseases that are related to the older generation," says Weir.
Not only that but seniors vote more than anybody.
"That's right," adds Weir, "we know in politics the most reliable group, demographic group of voters are those people 55 and older."
So we set up a round table with 10 residents back at Gulf Coast Village.
"I'm not that familiar with marijuana. I'd like to know more about it," admits Dotty Fitzgerald, who is concealing her age. But the rest of the group, ranges in age from 82 to 94.
"I don't smoke marijuana. My kids might. My drug of choice is scotch," adds 88-year old Stuart Hodes.
"It would seem to me that if it were handled through the doctors that would limit the misuse of it," says 94-year old Juine Salanda.
So reporter Liza Fernandez asks how many of the group would vote to legalize medical marijuana, and seven in 10 raise their hands. That's the same percentage the medical marijuana campaign's survey found to agree with legalization. And when asked who would try marijuana if it were prescribed by their doctor, 70% again raise their hands.
The key for this generation seems to be the trust in their doctor, but substance-abuse professionals like Kevin Lewis tell me legal medical marijuana or illegal street weed can hook you all the same.
"Take an illicit substance, make it widely available... that's not unlike the individuals that I treat today that say, my doctor gave me this Xanax or Oxycodone. It legitimizes it," says Lewis. He doesn't blame doctors at all. In fact, he tells me he'd have a tough decision to make if he had a loved one who was suffering: "I would accept the fact that probably for a certain diagnosis in a small group of circumstances, it may be helpful."
But Lewis fears what could happen if opportunists are driven by green backs to cash in on green bud. "What I do know in the world I live in, the world of capitalism and economics, is that if we make marijuana available in a legal fashion, I expect it to go very much the same way that we've recently dealt with as major pain killers," adds Lewis.
The amendment puts the department of health in charge of licensing medical marijauna treatment centers, which it does for pain clinics too.
"I know addiction rates are lower for marijuana than opiates, and the immediate effects are much difference. They're two totally opposite end of the spectrum substances; one can kill you, one cannot, says the United for Care Campaign Manager Ben Pollara.
And the sheriff agrees. Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott sating in a statement: "If modern medicine decides medical marijuana could help minimize the side-efects of other powerful drugs used to treat debilitating diseases, then it should be considered for treatment."
And in less than a year it will be up to you. If the state supreme court justices sign off on the language of the proposed amendment, the campaign will then have until February to gather the ramaining 700,000 signatures needed to get medical marijuana on the ballot come November.
For a look at the petition, click here.