United for Care's Ben Pollara to Debate Former Drug Czar Who Once Claimed Smoking Weed Leads to AIDS

Now that the Florida Supreme Court has approved to have a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana on the ballot this November, the group responsible for getting it there, United for Care, is all about getting the word out.

This week alone, the group has a daylong campaign scheduled to call registered voters and get the word out about Amendment 2.

Also on the docket will be United for Care's campaign manager, Ben Pollara, going head-to-head in a debate with former Ronald Reagan drug czar Carlton E. Turner.

Turner is famous for coming up with the "Just Say No" campaign that bombarded radio, TV, and comic books back in the 1980s, warning kids of the dangers of drugs. He's also known for claiming that marijuana is not only a gateway drug to other illegal substances but apparently also the gateway drug to AIDS.

"Marijuana leads to homosexuality, the breakdown of the immune system, and ultimately, AIDS," Turner famously said in 1986.

See also: United for Care's Ben Pollara Counters Arguments by Anti-Medical-Marijuana Crowd

The debate, which goes down on Thursday evening at St. Petersburg College, will have Pollara and Turner hashing out their differences in front of a crowd that is paying $30 a pop to attend.

"Any time you get invited to debate with a politician or someone like that, you get a little bit nervous," Pollara tells New Times. "But when I heard I'd be debating Carlton Turner, I got excited for this one."

Since his days serving under Reagan, Turner has remained active in his war against drugs, particularly with marijuana, which is being legalized as medicine across the country and may become legal in Florida if voters vote Yes on Amendment 2.

In a recent interview with Fox Business, Turner continued to claim his certainties that marijuana impairs the immune system and that weed has, as he puts it, "more cancer-causing compounds than cigarettes."

Of course, none of Turner's claims have been proven. Although some studies have linked lung cancer to people who smoke a lot of weed, the overall verdict remains unknown.

A study from UCLA showed that there was no link between lung cancer and light-to-moderate marijuana smokers.

And, more to the point, the study says that "THC has also been shown to have anti-cancerous behavior."

THC -- Tetrahydrocannabinol -- is the chemical that gives a person a high when he or she smokes marijuana.

A study published in the British Journal of Cancer in 2006 says that THC inhibits tumor growth in the brain. Another study, this one published in the Journal Molecular Cancer, showed that THC reduced tumor growth in breast-cancer patients. Likewise, a study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine said that THC had the same effects on lung cancer tumors.

Then there are the countless studies that show how medical marijuana eases pain and suffering in those with debilitating diseases.

Pollara is confident these types of studies at least extinguish some of the things Turner has been expounding as inarguable facts.

"Its always good to be in a position to debate someone who has no credibility when they say the things they've said," Pollara says. "It's good to debate people who have made themselves anachronistic drug warriors who have said ridiculous things in the past and stick to those things."

Meanwhile, Pollara and United for Care are also getting ready for their national Day of Compassion on Saturday, where hundreds of volunteers will be calling registered voters to get their support.

Even though their petition drive was a huge success, United for Care feels like there are even more people out there ready to support the legalization of medical marijuana.

"Our assumption going into Saturday's event is it takes a certain leap of faith to sign a petition," Pollara says. "We have a pretty good sense that sometimes, people get worried about sticking their names on a petition that calls for the legalization of marijuana. So we're trying to make sure we reach those people to get their commitment to vote in November."

The Day of Compassion campaign will be held at 14 locations throughout the state. Patients and volunteers will contact voters in their respective communities to educate them on the group's efforts.

The "Medical Marijuana: Is Florida Going to Pot?" debate at St. Petersburg College, which will be held in the Conference Center of the Seminole, starts at 6 p.m.

For information on attending the debate, call 727-394-6251.

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph