Medical Marijuana Debate at Broward College Draws Passions From Both Sides

It was a surprisingly sparse crowd that gathered in the Broward College South campus' Performing Arts Center on Tuesday to watch United For Care's Ben Pollara and Drug Free Florida's Javier Correoso debate Amendment 2 and the legalization of medical marijuana.

Yet, the passions that are being inflamed over this issue were ever present, particularly among the crowd of mostly pro-medical marijuana.

And, as November approaches and the debates resume, it's becoming abundantly clear that medical marijuana is becoming the issue that's rousing passings more than any other this election cycle. Even with a thin crowd at Broward's debate, the fervor over the amendment was tangible.

With voter registration volunteers lining the walkway towards the performing arts center, and an appearance by Broward County Supervisor of Elections Dr. Brenda Snipes, as well as two attorneys that specialize in voting, the afternoon was decidedly about getting young people involved.

But most were here to listen to the debate and express their own opinion. Part of the crowd sat quietly and listened. Others were demonstrative when a point was made for or against the amendment. Still it wasn't all people that have already decided where they'll be casting their vote. One student New Times spoke to named Brenda admitted to being on the fence.

"I know medical marijuana is a good thing for sick people," she said. "But I wanted to hear more about why the opposition doesn't want it. What makes it dangerous?"

What makes it dangerous is where Congressman Correoso took his argument. Dressed in a black suit and tie, the well-coiffed congressman sat up and addressed a contentious crowd that was there with a seemingly built-in defense.

"Compassion is an emotion," Correoso began. "What we're asking voter to consider is to vote on the language of amendment."

This brought on some moans among folks. But Correoso forged ahead, and began spousing the talking points the anti-medical marijuana group has been repeating over the last few weeks.

"Amendment 2 has serious issues," he said. "It's built to legalize marijuana. It's filled with loopholes and vauge language."

Correoso went on to talk up the caregiver concern, that loop holes would allow anyone to become a caregiver, and thus get people weed. The pill mills scenario also came up. As did Drug Free Florida's biggest point -- the fact that kids will be able to get their hands on marijuana and the parents will be powerless to stop it.

Pollara, dressed in a sports jacket, white shit and no tie, sat back and listed to Correoso's points, sometimes taking small notes. When introduced, Pollara got a louder ovation.

He then started things off by taking a jab at Correoso, making reference to him once working with former controversial Rep. David Garcia.

"Javier wasn't indicted," Pollara said. "So that tells me he's a good guy."

From there, Pollara set out to debunk Correoso's points one at a time.

"The Supreme Court had to review the amandment before getting it on the ballot," Pollara said. "The State Department of Health had to review the amendment and found that it's not going to lead to another pill mills scenario. We did our best to obviate this. We set it up so that there would be hoops for people to jump through to avoid this turning into a pill mill scenario."

The debate, as a whole, was cut and dry until the open Q & A session.

One man sauntered up to the mic and addressed Correoso directly.

"Let me ask you something," he said in a gruff sweaty voice. "Did you have coffee this morning?"

"I had Cuban coffee," Correoso answered.

"Then you ain't drug free!" the man retorted before ambling away.

Another man who claimed to be a Vietnam Veteran grabbed the mic and shouted into it.

"You talk about pill mills," he said. "Let me tell you something. The VA hospitals are the real pill mills. Florida has had marijuana for decades and will continue to have it, even if this doesn't get passed. When I smoke a joint, it helps my PTSD. Pills only make it worse."

But the commenters weren't all pro-marijuana.

One intense bespectacled young man took the mic and challenged Pollara on John Morgan's recent profanity-laced speech from a week ago.

"That tirade showed what your group's true intentions are!" the man yelled into the mic. "Morgan, he looked drunk, I don't know if he was, but he said he wanted to get the pot heads out to vote. What is that?"

"Did you see the video?" Pollara asked.

"Yes, I have what it said right here!"

"OK. I was there."

"He talked about getting lazy pot heads off their couch to vote."

"Look," Pollara calmly answered between the man's screaming. "If this is about the kind of language John used, then, yea, it may not have been the best. But his message was the same it was with any political campaign. It was to get voters out to vote. If you have an amendment -- whatever it is -- that you want to pass and it needs 60 percent to pass, you're going to want to target those who are for your cause and rally them to vote. That's all that was."

"But this just shows the intentions of your group!" the man repeated.

"I'm sorry if foul language offends you," Pollara said. "But there's nothing wrong with wanting to get people to vote for your cause. That's politics."

The angry man was followed by another inflamed man who talked about how medical marijuana is being used in other states, and how it's working.

"People are sick!" he yelled into the mic, addressing the man who spoke before he did. "People are sick and dying! Nothing else to talk about!"

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph