Advocates across the state are trying to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.
More than a dozen states have enacted laws that legalize medical marijuana, yet the contentious nature of the issue could put a wrench in the People United For Medical Marijuana's statewide campaign.
Kim Russell, chairman of PUFMM, said organizers are circulating a petition for the 2010 electoral ballot asking residents to legalize medical marijuana. They are looking for signatures to expand the right of growing, purchasing and possessing marijuana for medical needs.
"Patients need a safe, affordable and effective medication. We hope Florida will lead the nation in marijuana research to further its uses as a medicine," she said.
According to Russell, marijuana was made illegal in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act, but scientists continued researching its effects.
A lawsuit later brought the creation of the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Study, a program that doles out FDA-approved medical marijuana to patients struggling with glaucoma and other disorders.
Russell said public opinion polls PUFMM has consulted have shown that 72 percent to 80 percent of respondents are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.
"There is absolute support, we just have to get everyone organized," she said.
Besides the ballot initiative, PUFMM is asking people to write their representatives in hopes of getting a bill pushed through the Legislature rather than a full ballot amendment.
The group is conducting most of its marketing campaigns online.
"We are hoping they will submit a bill rather than a ballot initiative," Russell said. "The Internet is a huge resource for us."
Not only would legalizing marijuana for medical purposes reduce health care expenses, she said, but it would supplement another $1 billion into the tax base - funds that could be used for education or health-related investments.
If the petition is successful, there could be far-sweeping changes in state laws related to marijuana.
The Florida Office of the Attorney General stated that it could not provide any analysis of the initiative because the office had not yet received the petition.
While many parts of Florida are more conservative than progressive areas of the United States that have approved the use of medical marijuana, Russell said she is not concerned that her initiative will bring forward a backlash of negative sentiment.
"I am not concerned," she said. "We have so many sick people who are willing to stand up, put their faces on camera and show what a sick person looks like."
Russell started the initiative after her father was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and denied medical marijuana, even though it would have prevented him from receiving brain surgery.
"This isn't an option for him," she said. "He had an option of moving to one of the 13 states where it's legal."
The states that have legalized medical marijuana include Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Though the use of medical marijuana has not been legalized, Maryland allows medical use defense in court and Arizona allows physicians to prescribe marijuana.
Advocates have suggested that medical marijuana is a treatment for a number of disorders. It is most well-known for cases of glaucoma, where it relieves intraocular pressure, but it has also been tied to treatments for Alzheimer's, arthritis and cancer.
According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, there have been no studies to support the effectiveness of marijuana for these patients and the risks associated with addiction or regular smoke inhalation outweigh the results.