MIAMI – Speakers at a forum on the possible legalization of marijuana voiced sharply differing views on whether the drug has any beneficial value. “Just because something grows in the ground doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation and Save Our Society from Drugs.
“You cannot tell me a kid taking a toke is right,” added Major Delrish Moss of the Miami Police Department.
But Irvin Rosenfield touted the medicinal benefit of the drug also known as cannabis.
“I’m living proof that cannabis works,” said Irvin Rosenfield, 60, who is one of four surviving patients of the Federal Drug Administration’s Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program.
Barry Edelson agreed.
“I was on chemotherapy and it’s marijuana that got me through it,” he said. “Marijuana kept me alive. Nobody has ever died from smoking marijuana.”
The discussion, which drew more than 150 residents, took place a month after the Legislature failed to consider a bill that would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The Urban League of Greater Miami and several of its community partners hosted the meeting, dubbed, “Marijuana and Liberty City: A Community Conversation,” on Saturday at the Joseph Caleb Center, 5400 N.W. 22nd Ave. in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.
Presenters included representatives of the Miami-Dade County Public School Police Drug Division, Miami-Dade Teen Court, the Miami Police Department’s Liberty City substation, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Miami-Dade Health Department.
“We’re here to start a conversation, to have a dialogue, either pro or con,” said Urban League Board Chairman Fabian Thurston, who presided over the discussions.
According to statistics compiled by the Department of Children and Families, in 2010, 33.8 percent of Florida high school students reported using marijuana – up from 30.8 percent in 2008 – and 18.6 percent reported using the drug in the past 30 days.
With some studies showing that smoking marijuana causes a decrease in IQ, it is possibly a gateway drug and has other adverse effects, said Fay, the keynote speaker, who argued that legalization will bring only more harm to youth who smoke it.
“I don’t care if you lit up a piece of toilet paper,” she said. “Smoking anything is dangerous. “The reality is if you smoke pot you’re going to feel better, at least for a little while. That doesn’t mean you’re getting medical treatment.”
Rosenfield and Edelson, however, held themselves out as examples of just such treatment. Rosenfield, who suffers from a rare form of bone cancer, receives marijuana from the government and credits smoking it for the last 30 years as the reason he’s a successful, contributing member of society.
“Cannabis saved my life. I’m for getting medicine into the hands of patients who need it and if legalization will do that then I’m for it in that respect,” Rosenfield said.
Edelson said marijuana helped him through treatment for hepatitis.
“Cigarettes and alcohol kill people but they’re legal,” Edelson said. `“All the things that kill people are legal; the one thing they found that might save lives, they made illegal. That’s insane.”
Moss, from the police department, put the focus on giving youth proper guidance.
“Whether we legalize or not, we’re still going to have a problem unless we put our shoulders to the grind and work with our kids regardless of what the circumstances are,” Moss said.
That seemed to be the consensus of the meeting, according to Thurston.
“What I’ve gleaned from the discussion today is the problem is not really marijuana,” he said. “Marijuana is the symptom. It has become the parent when there is no parent and the buddy when there is no buddy. Marijuana use is a symptom of a deeper issue.”
MORE TO COME
T. Willard Fair, the Urban League’s president/CEO, said he was pleased with the dialogue and the willingness of people to speak up.
“Let the record speak for itself that we came and we conversed, we agreed and we disagreed, but none of that matters.
“What matters is that we conversed,” Fair said. “I don’t care if you are pro or con, what we care about is if you are silent about your position.”
Fair promised that the league will host more discussions on the topic and will invite more youth to participate.
“We’re not going to end by having the first conversation,” Fair said.
*Pictured above is Miami Police spokesperson Delrish Moss.