Hundreds pack in for medical marijuana forum

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Hundreds of people packed into a room at the University of South Florida Wednesday during a medical marijuana forum, as the state tries to iron out regulations.

The standing-room only crowd of about 200 was filled mostly with supporters who are growing frustrated by, what they view, as possible rules that might undermine Amendment 2, which 71 percent of Florida voters approved in November.

"The Department of Health finds it okay with ignoring the will of the people of Florida. We voted for medical cannabis and the amendment passed by 71 percent," said Renee Petro, a supporter of medical marijuana. "The amendment clearly states how things need to work. We shouldn't even be here today."

Petro, whose son suffers from seizures, has been voicing her support of medical marijuana for years. She and several other medical marijuana advocates voiced concerns about a rule forcing patients to have at least a 90-day relationship with a doctor before they are allowed to receive a recommendation for medical marijuana.

"Many families and loved ones cannot wait 90 days. They just simply can't. For us it's seven years too long and then you expect someone to wait an additional 90 days?" she said.

Other activists worry about a possible regulation that would require a patient suffering from a condition not specifically listed in the amendment to receive approval from the state medical board, even if their own doctor recommends medical marijuana.

"We should not have to plead every single case or wait on them to decide. People are suffering now," said Dr. David Berger, a pediatrician who is licensed to recommend medical cannabis. "The rules that have been proposed by the Department of Health is in complete contradiction with many of the things that are in Amendment Two that the citizens of Florida voted for."

Christian Bax, a representative with the Department of Health who is the director of the state's Office of Compassionate Use, has been conducting the forums.

Bax promised the state will come up with fair regulations.

"We're very happy to see so many people turn out," he said. "We're very eager to look through these comments, to continue to hear comments for the next few days and to promulgate a final rule that ends up fulfilling the will of the people."

Opponents of the amendment, like Teresa Miller, were pleased to hear the state is taking its time and using careful discretion.

"It saddens my heart that these people have false hope that this is some miracle drug when test after test and study after study for years has shown that it doesn't meet the benchmarks that are required to be called a legitimate medicine," Miller said.