BRADENTON. Fla. - Just days after learning that the November 2014 ballot will include a medical marijuana initiative, the Manatee Tiger Bay Club held a forum on the topic.
The room was packed with people on both sides of the issue, and the discussion became heated at times.
"It was damn good pot," said Donnie Clark. He's credited with growing what many call Myakka Gold, a potent strain of marijuana many say is the basis for medical and non-medical cannabis used around the country.
"I didn't know it went all over the United States because everybody knows about it," added Clark. He was unaware of his plant's success because his growing operation landed him in federal prison for 12 years. His sentence was commuted by President Clinton on his last day in office.
Clark was among the guest speakers at Manatee Tiger Bay Club's discussion on the pros and cons of the medical marijuana ballot initiative.
On one side of the issue there are people like Cathy Jordan, who says she has ALS and uses the drug to suppress her symptoms. On the other side, medical professionals who warn about the dangers of legalizing the drug for medical use.
"The down side for this ballot initiative is we're talking about smoked marijuana. Putting the word medical in front of it is a great marketing scheme, nothing smoked is medicine. Think tobacco and marijuana has more carcinogens than tobacco. This is not medicine," said Jessica Spencer with the Manatee Substance Abuse Coalition.
Spencer also says the wording on the ballot initiative is vague and would allow the drug to be used for any illness and be prescribed by any physician-- a situation she worries will lead to increased usage, addiction, memory loss, and lowered productivity for those using the drug.
"They're breeding these plants to have more THC and that's where we get concerned because that is the addictive, that is the psycho-activity of the plant this a drug that makes you apathetic," added Spencer.
But people like Haydon Fouke disagree. He says he's unaware of any addictive qualities and that the benefits of the drug far outweigh its negatives. "I have a blood cancer that is in the same family has leukemia, its called multiple myeloma. I have 204 chemotherapy doses in me right now, and I use medical marijuana," said Fouke.
Fouke says marijuana has not only relieved the strain of taking chemo, but also suppressed his illness. "I don't have any of the 32 side effects that comes along with the chemotherapy drugs that I'm taking right now, nor do I have any of the side effects that go along with the disease... I know for a fact that marijuana is responsible," added Fouke.
Before the November ballot initiative, state law makers are expected to vote on the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act. It would allow marijuana use for the certain illness.