Just as the debate over legalizing medical marijuana heads to the Florida Supreme Court, Eyewitness News anchor Greg Warmoth discovered just how easy it is to get a doctor's approval for pot in parts of California, where the drug has been legal for years.
Greg traveled to Venice Beach, Calif., one of that state's top tourist spots. While there, he discovered that simply telling a doctor you have problems sleeping can help you secure a prescription for pot.
Visitors to Venice Beach are encouraged – by salespeople - to get their prescriptions right there alongside the boardwalk. The Marijuana cannot be sold at the Doctor’s office but you are directed there with even a card for a “free joint” or “free edible”.
The situation in Venice Beach has Cocoa Beach City Commissioner Skip Williams very concerned that the same type of boardwalk-hawking might end up coming to his beachfront community.
Williams said he's certain medical marijuana is headed to Florida.
"It's not if," Williams told Greg,"it's when."
As a result, Williams wants to be prepared with ordinances on the books dictating where and when shops can open in the city, and he plans to hold a workshop on the issue in January.
Williams said he's concerned that, like in California, a "yes" vote here could open the door to the easy access to medical marijuana that Greg found on the West Coast.
"If you are trying to promote our family friendly image in Cocoa Beach, you wouldn't want that to be visible in a place where parents are going to take their kids," Williams said.
Meanwhile, there are powerful voices on the other side of the issue, including high-powered attorney John Morgan, who is using his fame and fortune to gather the nearly 700,000 signatures needed to put the medical marijuana question on the ballot for voters to decide next year.
Morgan is leading the Orlando-based group People United for Medical Marijuana in the fight.
Morgan argues that legalizing marijuana for the treatment of illnesses will help people like Maria Greenfield, a local cancer patient Eyewitness News reported on last summer.
Greenfield must break the law in Florida to get the cannabis oil she said she needs to offset symptoms associated with her cancer treatment.
"The cannabis allows me to function, whereas the opiates or narcotics would not allow that," Greenfield said.
Despite stories like Greenfield's, State Attorney General Pam Bondi and leaders in the Florida State House and Senate are now contesting the proposed ballot initiative for a medical marijuana amendment. The State Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the issue in December.
Bondi and others opposed to the current language in the ballot initiative said the amendment is not restrictive enough and could open the door to widespread marijuana use beyond those who need it for medicinal purposes.
Bondi has called the current language misleading and if adopted by voters, she wrote, "Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations."
In Southern California, Greg found marijuana being broadly dispensed for ailments such as back pain and lack of sleep. He saw teens and young adults with no visible signs of illness picking up what amounts to a license to buy pot at dispensaries, which, in some areas, outnumber Starbucks.
One man told Greg, "Fill out a couple of forms with your address and ID and sit down with a doctor. Tell them your ailments, and if the doctor deems that the medicine will be beneficial to you, she signs a piece of paper and you're out in a half hour, and you're all legal."
While Southern California may be known for its sunsets and stars, it is increasingly becoming well-known for its easy access to medical marijuana.
Greg found Venice Beach is the second busiest tourist attraction in Southern California, behind only Disneyland. While many come to see the sights and the shops, others come specifically to get their prescriptions for pot.
Greg also found shops advertising the prescriptions up and down the boardwalk with salesmen waving customers inside, except for Greg and his camera man.
"People inside are getting very uncomfortable," one of the storefront's employees told Greg and his camera man.
"But they're sitting in an open area, where anyone can see them," Greg responded.
Greg watched over and over as people came out of the shop, carrying white envelopes with their prescriptions. One patient told the doctor he hurt his shoulder skiing.
"It was relatively easy. It took a couple of minutes," that man said. "If you really have an ailment, they are here to help you."
Greg approached others, including three men who appeared to be in their 20s, walking away with their marijuana cards.
"But what was your medical reason?" Greg asked.
"I told them I can't sleep at night," the patient said.
"You just told them you can't sleep?"
In three days, Greg saw mostly young people getting their prescriptions and then their pot.
"It was so easy!" one young woman told him.
A group of teens also bragged about how easy it was to get weed.
"What kind of problem?" Greg asked.
"Legs. Can't sleep. My legs hurt. I said, 'My legs hurt,'" one of the teenagers said.
With that information, Greg visited a different shop along the boardwalk for himself. Staffers there asked for his driver's license. Greg filled out a form and provided some personal information. Later, during a doctor consultation, Greg was instructed to say he had trouble sleeping.
After about 40 minutes inside the facility and a quick chat with a doctor, Greg had in his hand all that is needed to purchase marijuana legally in California. Total cost: $350.
"There you go, a physician statement and a prescription for medical marijuana," Greg said.
That same shop then gave Greg the location for a dispensary, one of the dozens in that part of Southern California. There are more dispensaries there than Starbucks.
The one Greg was directed to had a card redeemable for a free joint.
Southern California has so many places to buy pot, there's even an app to help locating the dispensaries. At one point, Greg could choose from 13 locations within 1 mile of where he was standing.
"They are basically on every corner," he said.
From the main drags to residential areas, Greg and his photographer repeatedly spotted the green cross, signifying the marijuana shops.
Scenes like that have Cocoa Beach Commissioner Skip Williams – back in Central Florida -- very worried.
"Think of the people with families. They don't want to walk by somebody waving that sign," Williams said. "And they go, 'Mommy what's that marijuana thing all about?'"
Back in California, Greg legally purchased marijuana twice and was told he could return to buy more as often as he wanted. No record of his purchases was taken.
As for the marijuana, Greg flushed every bit of it down the toilet in his hotel room before flying back home to Central Florida.
Greg did not break any laws in doing this story. He always told the truth and he was forthright with names, addresses and his identification.
He was told that if he was going to bring the pot back to Florida, he should pack it inside something with a strong smell to throw off drug-sniffing dogs.
What other ailments allow you to get a marijuana license in California?
Channel 9 discovered that, according to a medical marijuana website, there are 198 maladies that can be treated by pot, including lack of sleep.
And in California, patients can smoke it wherever people are permitted to smoke cigarettes.
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