Infuriating the Joint

A public seminar on the evils of marijuana. An activist claiming pot saved his life. Someone was arrested.

Hotel security and the Orange County sheriff's deputies on hand arrested him for disorderly conduct. He spent thirteen hours in jail and posted $500 bond, but Scott has a name for the real crime that took place: a violation of his constitutional right to free speech.

With CAMM's assistance Scott has enlisted an Orlando civil rights attorney, Richard Wilson, who agreed to take the free-speech case on a pro bono basis. From Wilson's perspective, Scott should have never been arrested for speaking out at a political event. For that matter, he notes, taxpayer dollars should not have been used to present a one-sided political argument.

"It is entirely inappropriate," Wilson argues, "for the government to be spending tax dollars -- and my client's tax dollars -- on a political issue on which it has taken sides."

Still, event organizers stand by the decision to prohibit CAMM from airing its views. Despite the forum's billing as a "Marijuana Education Summit," the assembly was never meant to be an open discussion of ideas, says Betty Sembler, the founder of Drug-Free America, a nonprofit group that helped put the event together, and Save Our Society, a political organization.

Instead, she says, the goal was to explain the dangers of marijuana, and present scientific data supporting her belief that the drug is not medicine. Evidence to the contrary from researchers, doctors, and Scott himself was not considered factual and was therefore inconsequential.

"It wasn't about their opinions," she states bluntly. "It wasn't about anyone's point of view except for the people that were there."

Sembler's unyielding assertion was the prevailing sentiment at the Orlando education summit. Tim Moore, the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, came right out and stated the meeting's political intent: Keep the medical marijuana argument "fact based," and keep the issue off the Florida ballot.

A constitutional amendment, he insists, will only lead to widespread marijuana use, particularly among teenagers, who will find drugs easier to obtain and come to believe that drugs are safe and possibly even glamorous.

Moore also believes the medical marijuana lobby is simply a well-financed ploy to open the doors to full-scale drug legalization. As evidence, he lists the financially sound pro-pot campaign in California, which is sure to make its way to Florida any day now.

"The money has not shown up here yet," Moore admits, from his office in Tallahassee. "But it's coming."

In contrast, he says, his own political interest doesn't have a lot of money to fight against medical marijuana.

"All we have," he says in a down-home Southern accent, "is the faith and trust of all Floridians."

Of course the FDLE also has taxpayer money. And the power to arrest those who disagree with its version of the facts, as presented at the summit.

Among the most salient of these facts, according to Moore, is that a legal alternative to smoking marijuana already exists in the form of a prescription drug called Marinol, a synthetic pill that offers some of the same medicinal effects as marijuana.

But Marinol has its drawbacks, Scott contends. For one thing he can't control the dosage as easily with the pill as he can by smoking a joint. Also, the medicine he takes causes vomiting, an effect marijuana is meant to mitigate. If he's vomiting, he asks, how can he ingest yet another pill?

But Scott's no dope; aside from that simple argument, he and his doctors have facts of their own.

Studies conducted by the National Institute of Health, a federally funded health research agency, give anecdotal evidence demonstrating marijuana's ability to reduce and relieve pain and nausea, according to Scott's local doctor, Ralph Liporace.

While Liporace, a Pompano Beach internist, hasn't directly instructed his HIV and AIDS patients to commit a crime by buying a bag of weed, he has told them that some patients have felt the beneficial side effects of the now-illegal drug.

"As a physician I'm licensed to give prescriptions for far more harmful products than marijuana," he maintains. "I can write for morphine, I can write for opium, I can write for cocaine. I mean, give me a break -- I can't prescribe a joint?"

According to the panel at the publicly funded event, the answer to that question is a flat "No." No exceptions. No questions asked.

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