Dispelling myths and helping communities
By Gary Stein
Last Wednesday night, the City of Apopka was the site of positive change for the health and welfare of its citizens.
When Amendment 2 won in 2016 by 71.3% of the vote, the voice of the voters was clear – they understood the validity of claims that medical cannabis helps people with debilitating conditions live better lives and they wanted those people to have access to that medicine.
But when the legislature wrote the law implementing the new constitutional amendment, the conservative-leaning body wrote highly restrictive rules and regulations. Part of that highly restrictive and regulated approach was to prevent cities and counties from being able to decide on zoning medical cannabis dispensaries the way they thought was right for their municipalities, using a policy known as preemption. They gave them 2 choices: zone dispensaries no stricter than pharmacies or ban them altogether.
Banning dispensaries from an area goes against what Amendment 2 demands – access to the medicine if you are a qualified patient. Any county or city that enacts a ban could be held liable for breaking a constitutional law. But the idea of Tallahassee dictating how localities can run their own districts is so abhorrent to so many local officials that many opted for the ban.
Tallahassee made two mistakes – they underestimated the ability of localities to make the right decision and they didn’t give them enough information to make that decision.
All that many local elected officials had to go on, was the 80 years of misinformation and fake news stories that lead to cannabis to be federally illegal and a Schedule One controlled substance (which puts it in the same major category as heroin). That means it is believed that the substance is highly addictive and has no medicinal value. Both those claims have already been proven false and many in Congress are currently working to change that law, but many people still don’t have that information.
Cannabis would be considered a miracle drug for all the things that it can do, from treating cancer to Alzheimer’s and many other disorders, if it weren’t for all of the myths that have been propagated about it since it was made illegal in 1937.
So in September, when the city of Apopka decided to opt for the ban, they did it because they didn’t have all the facts and they were striking back at Tallahassee’s attempt at preemption. Mayor Joe Kilsheimer understood that a vast majority of their constituents voted for this medicine to be accessible, but worried that Orange County’s upcoming ban might concentrate dispensaries in their city.
The two things happened to shift the narrative – citizens and advocates, including myself, converged on Orange County and educated their county commission about all aspects of the medicine, including the information they needed to dispel all the fears and myths surrounding cannabis and medical dispensaries. Upon reflection, Orange County realized that the only good decision for the welfare of their citizens and to comply with the will of the voters was to NOT ban dispensaries.
The next step was when City Commissioner Kyle Becker, the lone vote against the ban in September, grabbed the reigns and demanded a change. After all, Kilsheimer’s biggest fear was that dispensaries would crowd in Apopka if Orange County enacted a ban. Now that the county had no ban, he saw that it was now time to act on behalf of the many patients with those debilitating conditions, including over 3000 veterans and first responders who could be dealing with PTSD.
Community-minded leaders Rod Love and Greg Jackson developed a community intervention campaign utilizing their weekly radio show, Let’s Talk About It” on WOKB, 1680 AM. They used their voice to identify subject matter experts such as myself and had a show strictly on the topic of access to Medical Cannabis. Love & Jackson spoke with Apopka residents who were current patients and Dr. Joseph Rosado, a certified medical cannabis doctor who was one of the first in Florida to help patients get their Medical Cannabis cards from the state. The topics ranged from the 4000-year history of cannabis as medicine to the fact that it is NOT a gateway drug, less addictive than caffeine and poses far less public safety and welfare problems than alcohol and prescription drugs, such as opioids.
They spread the word, which is that it is time to put aside the myths and bring forth the truth. It’s also time to let qualified patients in Apopka have access to this miracle drug and let others in Florida who don’t have dispensaries come here for their medicine and enjoy all the city has to offer when they come to get it.
Those are the reasons that Apopka City Council decided to vote in favor of dropping the ban and revising the ordinance to show that they not only plan to heed the will of the voters of Amendment 2, but they saw through all the misinformation and myths that have slowed the process of implementing the new law. They see that dispensaries do not increase crime, but are in fact an asset to their city and will reduce crime by helping get rid of the black market and all of the damage it can do. People will know that the security measures dispensaries take (that are mandated by the legislature’s rules) make other retail establishments safer and increase traffic to the city.
Most of all, it sends the message that the myths have fallen in Apopka. The elected officials of THIS locality have the information that the legislature failed to give them to help make this decision, which will greatly impact the city and its citizens in a very positive way. The legislature in Tallahassee may not have had the faith in them to make the right decision, but the people of Apopka did
And they used that information to do the right thing.
Perhaps the other cities in Orange County that have already enacted a ban, and will lose out on the health, welfare and financial benefits of listening to the way their constituents voted, will sit up and take notice of what transpired here.
Now, it is their opportunity to also do the right thing.
Gary Stein has blogged for the Huffington Post since 2009. He has also written for Context Florida, Health News Florida, Florida Politics, and Politics of Pot. He is currently working a book about medical cannabis called, “The Great Green Hope” which will be available later this year. Stein has worked as an advocate and consultant on issues of health and health equity including Medicaid expansion, needle exchange programs, gun violence and increased access to healthcare. He was Executive Director of Health Equity Connections, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that worked to promote Health, Wellness and greater access to appropriate, cost-effective Healthcare for vulnerable populations and save Medicaid and Medicare millions and reduce the millions in uncompensated care to healthcare providers.