Gainesville has had a long, strange trip with marijuana — from Hempfest doobie tosses and a residential compound known as Fort Ganja to Gainesville Green’s renown as a strain of pot.
So it should be no surprise that residents have donated to the successful campaign to get a medical marijuana referendum on the November ballot, and that some are predicting the county will vote overwhelmingly for the measure on Election Day.
But should 60 percent of Florida voters say yes and the initiative pass, residents who believe cannabis will help with a medical condition will not be able to simply waltz into a shop and buy some.
First, lots of regulations will have to be written on who can buy, where they can buy and who can sell. That process will take months.
“All of this will have to be hashed out in the regulatory process and the Legislature,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, the organization that spearheaded the initiative.
In the meantime, state lawmakers are not waiting to see if the referendum will pass. Several have already filed bills to allow medical marijuana in certain conditions.
Among those sponsoring legislation is state Rep. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, whose district includes Alachua County.
About 6.17 percent of Alachua County’s 152,958 voters signed petitions to put the initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot. Pinellas County was tops at 12.5 percent.
While Alachua County’s numbers were not particularly high, local advocates of the measure say they believe county voters will support it on Election Day.
Alachua County Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, who last year asked Sheriff Sadie Darnell to stop charging people with misdemeanor amounts of marijuana, said he believes the county will go big for the measure.
“In Alachua County, it will pass — I’m going to predict right now — 78 percent in favor,” Hutchinson said.
The referendum was launched by prominent Orlando attorney John Morgan, who said his late father began using marijuana near the end of his life to ease symptoms from cancer.
Contribution reports from the Florida Division of Elections show that about 40 Alachua County residents donated to the campaign.
Most were small contributions — $25, $50. A Gainesville dentist donated $1,000.
However, $30,000 was donated in three contributions of $10,000 each by Michael Singer of Alachua.
The Sun contacted the Temple of the Universe in Alachua to learn if its founder, Michael “Mickey” Singer, was the campaign donor. Messages had not been returned by late Friday.
Singer founded Medical Manager Corp., a company that produces software for medical practices, in Alachua in 1981. It later was bought by WebMD Corp., Emdeon Corp. and Sage Software.
Singer was one of several company officials charged with fraud in a federal indictment related to the company’s earnings. He agreed to pay a $2.5 million settlement.
The nonprofit Temple of the Universe is a meditation and yoga center. Singer is also an author and has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.
Singer’s most notable charitable gift was the donation of a painting by French impressionist Claude Monet, “Champ d’avoine,” to the Harn Museum at the University of Florida.
Several people who donated to the campaign to legalize medical marijuana said they support it because they had used marijuana to ease pain and the side effects of cancer treatment.
One contributor, who asked to remain anonymous because of marijuana’s illegality, said he used it because of progressively worsening back and hip pain before he eventually got surgery.
“It really helped me when I tried it. I think it did it for me. It doesn’t work the same way as narcotics, but it did help,” the contributor said. “I’m happy it’s on the ballot. I think it will help others if it passes.”
If the measure passes, the Florida Department of Health will be the primary agency overseeing the certification of patients who qualify for cannabis and the “medical marijuana treatment centers” from which they will get it.
If the measure passes, the department will have six months from Jan. 6, the effective date of measure, to develop regulations that will include:
* Procedures for issuing identification cards to patients with physician certification.
* Procedures for issuing cards to caregivers of qualified patients.
* Procedures for the registration of treatment centers that include issuance, renewal, suspension and revocation of registration, and standards to ensure security, record keeping, testing, labeling, inspection and safety.
* A regulation that defines the amount of marijuana that could reasonably be an adequate supply for a patient’s medical use, based on the best available evidence.
The Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research used six approaches to estimate how many people might qualify as patients. Among them was a review of other states with medical marijuana and the number of people with various diseases that would qualify for marijuana use.
Estimates ranged from 452 to more than 1.6 million. The lower number reflects a slow rollout of the program, while the higher number is based on people who self-reported marijuana use, the report states.
Meanwhile, the DOH estimates the number of annual patients would be 417,252 if the program were to be fully implemented. It also estimated that another 250,351 caregivers would qualify to get marijuana for their patients.
DOH estimates the state would have 1,789 registered treatment centers.
The estimates are based on data from Colorado and Oregon, which have medical marijuana programs, according to the legislative report.
The Sun requested an interview with the DOH for more information but instead got an email stating, “The Florida Department of Health will follow the law and will not speculate on any future action.”
Meanwhile, bills have been filed in both the state House and Senate for medical marijuana. Senate Bill 1030, filed by Bradley, would allow use of certain non-smokeable types of marijuana to be used for serious illnesses including epilepsy-associated seizures in children.
The type of marijuana used for seizures is known as “Charlotte’s Web” and it has been shown to have some success, Bradley said in a press release.
“Charlotte’s Web helps patients improve their quality of life and offers hope to patients desperate to provide relief to their children,” he said. “While many Floridians have significant concerns about medical marijuana being misused, SB 1030 offers a new opportunity for Floridians who have not found relief with current medications.”