MIAMI - Florida voters will get a chance in November to decide whether to legalize medicinal marijuana -- and the battle lines are drawn.
On one side is Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature, which is opposed to the idea. On the other side are, according to polls, a sizable majority of Floridians and some self-proclaimed weed warriors.
In South Florida, one of the most vocal of those has been attorney Norm Kent, the national chair of NORML and sparring partner of Nancy Grace, who has made him a semi-regular on her cable show (see video).
"I will tell you what she says to me more than anything else: 'Cut his mic! Cut his mic right now!'" Kent told Bob Norman. "That's when you know you've made your point."
Kent doesn't softball it with Grace.
"What do you make of the fact that marijuana is extremely addictive?" Grace asked him in one of the seven shows on which he's appeared of late.
"That is absolute nonsense," Kent shoots back. "I can't believe you are disseminating such a lie to the American public."
When Grace tied the marijuana debate to the heroin death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, she did cut his mic after he said, "The only people that are killed by marijuana are people running from cops, Nancy."
But it's not all cable TV spectacle for Kent. He's also the publisher of the South Florida Gay News and said he's seen numerous AIDS patients benefit medically from marijuana. And aside from being a casual pot smoker, Kent is also a cancer survivor who says marijuana was the only thing that stopped the nausea caused by chemotherapy, while he was being prescribed much stronger pharmaceuticals like hydrocodone and prednisone.
"It's not that every American is for weed or for pot, it's that they are against prohibition," Kent said. "We are going to win this medical marijuana amendment in Florida. We are going to get 65 to 70 percent of the population."
Leo Carden backs that up, talking about the pain medication he was prescribed for chronic pain from a crushed pelvis and other serious injuries resulting from a car accident (his car was T-boned by a red light runner).
"I was on the highest dosages of fentanyl and Oxycontin the whole time I was in the hospital," said Carden. "I didn't feel like myself. I felt like a zombie, I was drooling on myself, definitely not where I wanted to be."
Carden credits pot for giving him his life back and keeping him off government assistance.
"I could go to the store, I could go to work," Carden said. "I had a massive limp because of the injury, and when I was not smoking you could see the limp."
"And when you smoke, the limp goes away?" Norman asked Carden.
"Completely," Carden said. "I'm walking proof that it does help, that it's not a bad thing."
Kent decries the drug laws that could lead to Carden's arrest.
"Three quarters of a million Americans are being arrested every year for possession of marijuana," Kent said. "I have people right now facing mandatory jail time for cannabis that is being regulated, decriminalized, that is managed well in 20 states. People still go to jail because of marijuana, they get put in cages."
One of Kent's cannabis clients is 19-year-old Dylan Hebert, who has been cited and arrested for marijuana possession. Hebert says he's been prescribed Ritalin and other drugs for his diagnosed ADHD, but only marijuana works for him.
"I can't believe I'm getting busted for something that's natural and something that's good for you," Hebert told Norman. "For instance, I have ADHD and I don't want to take pills from the government. I want to smoke marijuana because marijuana helps me calm myself down, mellows me out. I don't feel very anxious."
Hebert said he already deals in medical-grade marijuana rather than that "BS crap you get in Miami."
"I'm going to be a pharmacy on the street until it's legalized soon," Hebert said.
Kent's confidence that the ballot initiative will pass isn't challenged by recent polls, which show that 65 to 70 percent of Floridians favor its passage. The referendum requires a 60 percent majority to pass.
"Finally, the marijuana smokers of America are learning to do what gay people have done, and come out of the closet, open up and say, 'We're normal, we're OK,'" Kent said. "It's just pot, Nancy."
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