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Seniors could be key on medical marijuana in Florida

Published:Monday | November 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A woman comforts a man mourning for their relative killed in a bomb explosion at a local hospital in Lahore, Pakistan yesterday.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, left, and Chairman of the IPCC Rajendra K. Pachauri present a comprehensive report by the UN climate panel, summarizing the three interim reports previously released on climate changes, Sunday Nov. 2. 2014, at Tivoli Congress Center in Copenhagen, Denmark. Climate change is happening, it's almost entirely man's fault and limiting its impacts may require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century, the U.N.'s panel on climate science said yesterday.
Adam Eidinger, chairman of the DC Cannabis Campaign, works on posters encouraging people to vote yes on DC Ballot Initiative 71 to legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use, in Washington. A total of 147 ballot measures will go before voters on Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, on topics ranging from marijuana legalization and abortion to food labels and gun sales.


The debate over legalising medical marijuana in Florida constantly generates talk of young people potentially flooding the polls. But seniors are the most reliable voters and could be key to the outcome of the measure.

Though polling on Amendment 2 has been erratic, seniors have been showing a level of interest in the initiative that underscores the fact they may benefit most from its passage.

"You get older, you get sick, you start getting diseases, your bones stop working as well as they used to, and you're presented with this pharmacopoeia of different drugs that you have to take just to get through the day," said Ben Pollara, who leads United for Care, the pro-Amendment 2 campaign.

"To the extent that seniors can use marijuana to supplement or replace any of those drugs, I think is a good thing."

Similar arguments have been made by older people themselves, who have turned up at events across the state, even when they've been intended for more youthful crowds.

Such was the case at a recent forum at Broward College: It was held at an on-campus theater, with a promise of pizza for the droves of young people who passed by. But inside, the audience was full of faces far older than expected.

Among those who attended was M.J. Seide of Hollywood, who pays about US$450 for an ounce of marijuana every six weeks to help her avoid painkillers that left her incapacitated and worried about addiction. She began to explain her congenital disease, countless surgeries and the pills doctors pumped her full of, when her phone brought things to a pause.

"My stuff is in," she said, before adding: "At 64, I'm a criminal because I have to buy this stuff on the street."

Around the state, similar voices have sounded from seniors who say they've used marijuana for everything - from easing pain to helping them to sleep. If they end up being representative of the overall population of older voters, it would delight supporters of Amendment 2, which requires 60 per cent approval to pass.

To obtain marijuana, patients would have to get a doctor's certification of their condition, which in turn would qualify them for a patient ID card they can use at licensed dispensaries.

In Florida and across the United States, a greater percentage of seniors vote than any other age group, and their share of the total electorate is even more pronounced in years without a presidential contest.

In the last midterm election in 2010, about 56 per cent of Floridians 65 and older voted, far higher than any other age group. They represented nearly one-third of the total ballots cast.


Overall public opinion on marijuana has been shifting nationally, and medical use enjoys far broader support than recreational use, though polls on Amendment 2 have varied widely.

A July survey by Quinnipiac University found 83 per cent of Florida voters aged 65 and older supported medicinal marijuana. An October poll by the University of Florida found about 37 per cent of voters 60 and older support Amendment 2.

Experts agree seniors show less support than younger voters, and most observers believe senior support is somewhere in the middle of those two surveys.

"The seniors, to a degree, are being targeted, in that this is a wonderful thing for them because they don't have to use opiates, etcetera, etcetera," said Jessica Spencer, who is leading the Vote No on 2 group, and who says seniors who read the amendment are becoming aware it is riddled with holes.

"Seniors are, of course, interested in protecting our younger generations."