Denise Houston is a cancer survivor who used cannabis to get through her debilitating radiation treatments.
She shared her story during an Aug. 9 Pasco County Commission meeting because she wanted commissioners to consider it, as they decide the future of medical marijuana within the county.
She was one of several speakers at the public hearing on a proposal to extend a ban on the growth, processing and dispensing of cannabis through the end of the year.
An existing ban is set to expire Sept. 2.
Cannabis is the basis for medical marijuana, which is legal in Florida in a low-level, non-euphoric form known as Charlotte’s web.
“It’s a life saver for some people,” Houston told commissioners. “I am one of those folks. I am a caregiver for one of those folks.”
Houston urged the board to not extend the ban and to instead open the door to medical marijuana in Pasco.
County commissioners won’t vote on the matter until a second public hearing scheduled Aug. 23 at 1:30 p.m., in New Port Richey.
County officials say the extended ban will allow more time to craft land use and zoning regulations.
One option would be to ban dispensaries. However, as a backup, commissioners also requested staff to write regulations restricting activities to industrial districts.
Complicating the matter is a Nov. 8 referendum when voters statewide will decide whether to allow stronger strains of medical marijuana and to expand the list of illnesses that can be treated with medical marijuana. Current law allows its use for cancer and seizure disorders.
Florida’s health department recently approved the first of six dispensaries qualified for permits. The first delivery of medical marijuana went to a man living in Hudson.
However, law enforcement and substance abuse counselors are wary of the expansion of medical marijuana.
Pasco County sheriff’s office has provided county commissioners with data on crime spikes in states, such as Colorado and California, which have approved either medical marijuana or its recreational use.
At the recent public hearing, representatives in the substance abuse prevention and treatment field spoke in favor of the moratorium.
Kent Runyon told commissioners of a visit to Seattle where he saw a billboard advertising a local marijuana farm. “It sounded like you’re going to a pumpkin farm picking pumpkins,” said Runyon, who is chief strategist and compliance officer at Novus Medical Detox Center in New Port Richey. “Is this the message we want for our youth and our children (that) it is something good, something embracing, something harmless?”
Still, the majority of speakers at the hearing urged commissioners to support medical marijuana as a health benefit and a potential source of tax revenue for the county.
Some farms in Pasco that are struggling could make money from growing cannabis, said Travis Moorehead. He also told commissioners he knew of people with prescription pill addictions, but marijuana “probably is one of the least dangerous things you could allow.”
Garyn Angel, chief executive officer of Angel Enterprises, described himself as a “world leader in the cannabis industry.” He invented a machine to extract nutrients from botanicals as a way to help a friend with Crohn’s disease, and now owns Magical Butter, a company that sells his invention.
Angel said he has partnered with university researchers to learn about cannabis and its health benefits. “It is one of the greatest anti-inflammatories we have,” he said. “Inflammation is at the root of most diseases, especially in the gut.”
He suggested to commissioners that Pasco could become a hub for the medical marijuana industry, benefiting patients and boosting the county’s economy.
“The dollars are coming,” he said. “It’s going to happen. Let’s embrace it …let’s be a flagship.”
But, money wasn’t the issue foremost for Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells.
“This is personal to me. I have a friend now with stage three cancer,” he said. “The only thing that can help him is to smoke marijuana. The law says he can’t do that.”
Wells and Pasco County Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey requested a workshop so that they could learn more information from all sides of the issue.
“It’s just a subject I don’t know a lot about,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of different compelling stories from both ends. It’s incumbent upon us to get more educated.”
A workshop likely will be scheduled in September.
Published August 17, 2016