SEBRING – John MacDonald spent his early adult years in the free-spirited late 1960s, when the mystique of marijuana moved from the underground into hippy environs of peace, love and happiness.
So, for the retired construction electrician, the prospect of Floridians being able to legally buy marijuana for medicinal purposes is a no-brainer as long as it’s done by a licensed dispensary.
“It wouldn’t bother me at all. They could sell it in CVS or Walgreen’s for all I care; if it’s regulated, it doesn’t matter,” said MacDonald, 76, as he tapped golf balls on the Sun ‘n Lake golf course putting green Monday.
MacDonald’s sentiments about the legalization of medical marijuana are similar to the majority of Floridians, according to a poll released Monday.
The poll by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., showed that 88 percent of Florida voters approve of medical marijuana, including 83 percent of voters 65 and older and 95 percent of those between 18 and 29. The poll also showed support across party lines; 80 percent of Republicans backed the idea and 19 percent opposed it.
A quick trip around Sun ‘n Lake and South Florida State College shows a cross-section of Highlands County residents, across age groups and political parties, backing the possibility of dispensing pot for medical use only.
Bill Gorsuch, 74, who is retired from the U.S. Navy, said he isn’t totally opposed to the use of marijuana as medicine but feels the issue on the November general election ballot is “too broad.”
The proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot would allow doctors to order marijuana for patients.
Called “The Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative,” Amendment 2 is on the Nov. 4 ballot in Florida as an initiated constitutional amendment.
If approved, it would legalize medical marijuana by a qualifying patient or personal caregiver and is not subject to criminal, civil liability or sanctions. It also states a licensed physician is not subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions for issuing medical marijuana to a person who has a “debilitating medical condition.”
Also, registered medical marijuana treatment centers are not subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions under state law.
“If it’s strictly controlled for medical use, I’m for it,” said Gorsuch, a registered Republican who lives in Sebring with his wife, Barbara. “I am opposed to recreational use. I’m opposed to cigarettes, too. We have problems enough with drinking and driving and I don’t want to add another intoxicant to the problem.”
In a written statement, Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said the study showed varying demographics are in favor of the initiative.
“Forget the stereotypes of stodgy old folks living out their golden years playing canasta and golf,” Brown stated. “Almost nine- in-ten Floridians favor legalizing medical marijuana and a small majority says adults should be able to possess small amounts of the drug for recreational purposes.”
Leaning toward the other end of the age spectrum doesn’t change the perception of medical marijuana, according to some students at South Florida State College.
As they stood in line for the registration desk at South Florida State College, freshmen Emily Hughes and Hannah Belcher, both 18, said they approved of medical marijuana “with limits.” Both registered Republicans, they said -- like Gorsuch -- that pot for pleasure should be out.
“It would be OK with limits. As for recreational (use), I don’t see how that could have a positive impact on communities at all,” said Hughes of Wauchula.
“I think it would be OK do use marijuana to treat disease and should be legal for anyone that needs it,” said Belcher.
Although none of the Highlands County residents interviewed Monday support the recreational use of marijuana, the poll showed Florida voters overall approved it by 55 percent to 41 percent opposing.
The poll showed men support allowing Floridians “to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use” by 61 percent to 36 percent against it, while women were more wary with 49 percent approving and 45 percent opposed. Young voters support the idea by a 72 percent to 25 percent opposed, while 59 percent of voters 65 and older are opposed and 36 percent support it.
Just after finishing up a lunchtime hamburger at Five Guys, Sebring’s Geri Snyder, 68, a registered Democrat, like the Republicans, said she also supports the initiative medically but not recreationally. The retired Ohio school bus driver said she has read studies about the benefits of cannabis for cancer and epilepsy and would vote “aye” for medical, not recreational, reasons.
“I’m not for any recreational use. There’s already enough problems with kids and drinking; some of them don’t make good decisions,” she said. “But if someone has a disease and it’s proven to help, it should be used.”
In addition, the survey also determined 71 percent of voters would support having a medical marijuana dispensary near where they live.