TAMPA — A small but steady steam of people backing a petition to get medical marijuana on the statewide ballot next year attended a music and arts festival in Citrus Park on Saturday.
The event called “Beyond the Smoke” drew a cross-section of the Tampa Bay community to The Dubliner Irish Pub at 12836 Henderson Road.
It was a gathering of young and old, and people of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and political beliefs from the Tampa Bay area and beyond. They attended to promote the cause and collect more signatures.
United for Care and The Dubliner Irish Pub joined forces to sponsor the event featuring local musicians, artists and vendors. United for Care is leading the effort to collect enough signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the Florida ballot next November.
Opponents of the effort say using marijuana can lead to use of more harmful drugs They maintain the state’s existing laws should stand.
The supporters, such as Charles Crites of Tampa’s Southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood and Alfred Robertson of Pasco County, both of whom attended Saturday’s event, called cannabis a highly misunderstood “environmentally friendly plant.”
They described cannabis and its by-product, hemp, as being environmental safe and a potential economic windfall for the country.
“It should be for all sick people all over the world,” said Dianne Renusch, who identified herself as a Michigan resident. “It should be legalized and decriminalized because they are arresting people who are in pain.”
People such as Christopher, a 23-year-old quadriplegic who said marijuana eases the pain and spasms he endures as the result of being shot in the neck during a home invasion in Town N’ County five years ago.
“If I didn’t use cannabis, I couldn’t move my body,” said Christopher, who asked that his last name be withheld because he fears being arrested.
Christopher said he was bedridden at a nursing home for four years after he was shot. The pain and spasms made it difficult to move.
He tried using marijuana to ease the symptoms soon after he was released, and it has given him a new outlook on life.
“Before I felt like I was just living; now I feel like I’m living life,” he said.
Christopher acknowledges he was traumatized by his disability, but the possibility of being labeled a criminal for using a natural substance “made by God” is overwhelming, he said.
“People like me are stuck being criminals” because marijuana use is illegal in Florida, he said.
Organizers said they have gathered more than 700,000 signatures needed to put the amendment before voters.