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Marijuana Debate October 30: Organizers Expect Protests

The organizers of an upcoming debate about the legalization of marijuana in Florida say that they are expecting overflow crowds, protests, and extra police. The head of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy will debate a UF professor who has advised three presidents. The event is set to take place at Palm Beach State College on October 30.

Medicinal marijuana is already legal in 20 states, and Colorado and Washington have both legalized the wacky weed for recreational use as well. It's very possible that medical marijuana could be on the ballot in Florida for 2014. United for Care has already gathered almost double the 68,000 votes needed to trigger a state Supreme Court review of language for a referendum. The group needs 683,149 signatures to get it on the ballot, and 60 percent of voters would need to approve it for it to pass.

Next week's debate is being organized by the Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition, whose executive director, Jeff Kadel, said, "We think this debate will be a great opportunity to highlight both the negatives of medical marijuana as well as the positives, which seem to receive a disproportionate amount of attention in the media sometimes,"

Tickets to the debate are free. Call 561-844-5952, or visit pbcsac.org.

More on the debaters, from a statement:

Speaking in favor of legalizing medical marijuana: Aaron Houston, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, oversees the work of a national staff that coordinates students on more than 200 campuses around the world. Named a "Rising Star of Politics" by Campaigns & Elections' Politics Magazine in 2008, Houston is a nationally recognized expert on drug policy and marijuana law, having played a key role in pushing the Department of Justice to formally issue written guidelines on medical marijuana in October 2009. Houston has appeared on NBC's Today Show, The Colbert Report, Fox News, CNN, and NPR, and his efforts on Capitol Hill were chronicled in a 2007 Showtime original documentary, In Pot We Trust. A Bloomberg News review of the film noted, "Anyone wondering how lobbyists operate will benefit from watching Houston. [He] is... clearly comfortable with political combat." Houston attended the University of Colorado at Denver, and in his free time, he volunteers on behalf of homeless individuals and the food reform movement.

Speaking against legalizing medical marijuana: Kevin Sabet is a former adviser to three U.S. presidential administrations who promotes smart drug policy solutions rooted in public health. Sabet is an assistant professor of psychiatry, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida, a consultant, advocate, and a writer. With Patrick J. Kennedy, he founded Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) in January 2013. He was a political appointee employed in the administration of Barack Obama (2009-11), and he served as a political appointee for a short time in the administration of George W. Bush (2003-04), making him the only political appointee at the Office of National Drug Control Policy to serve in both administrations. He also worked as a policy researcher at ONDCP during the administration of Bill Clinton. He is an outspoken opponent of drug legalization. Sabet is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Oxford University, where he received his doctorate in social policy as a Marshall Scholar.

The debate will be moderated by Randy Schultz of the Palm Beach Post.

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