Florida will be voting on a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana in November. To discuss the issue, the University of Tampa hosted a debate between chief petitioner attorney John Morgan and marijuana’s public enemy number one, Kevin Sabet from the misnamed Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Joining Morgan on the “pro” side was Allen St. Pierre, director of NORML. Joining Sabet on the “con” side was Kansas anti-pot shill Dr. Eric Voth of the Institute on Global Drug Policy.

The inclusion of St. Pierre, head of the nation’s pot legalization lobby, drew a bit of concern from Morgan, who is keen to keep the debate about medical use, not recreational. When St. Pierre introduced himself, Morgan asked, “You’re on my side? You are for legalization.” St. Pierre responded, “Don’t worry; we won’t get into that much.”

But the drug warriors were quick to pounce on St. Pierre’s inclusion. “This is not about medicine; this is about legalization,” said Voth, calling medical marijuana a “Trojan horse” being driven by the marijuana lobby. Sabet continued the slippery slope theory, claiming medical marijuana is a “brilliant public relations strategy” on the part of pro-marijuana forces “to use sick people to move toward legalization.’’ Both men pointed out that every Florida medical association opposes medical marijuana and for Sabet, “When I see that, I don’t have to ask any more questions,” like, I suppose, how is it over one million Americans are getting effective relief from medical marijuana in plant form?

Morgan moved quickly to dismiss the slippery slope talking point. “The words 'slippery slope' is a scare tactic,” Morgan said. “If we were about slippery slopes and kids getting their hands on them, we’d have to outlaw booze, guns and cars.” Morgan also flatly stated, “I don’t trust the FDA, I trust an organic plant. There has never been one death as a result of marijuana.” Showing little respect for his opponents, Morgan objected to, “A guy from a cornfield in Iowa telling me what my motives are,” referring to Kansas’s Dr. Voth, and “A political science major” with no medical or scientific credentials dedicated to “selling fear,” referring to Kevin Sabet.

Sabet tried scaring the very pro-medical marijuana crowd with the specter of Florida’s Oxycontin “pill mill” problem, saying the amendment language is so vague the state will end up with “pot mills” as well (where Oxycontin addicts can switch to something safer for pain relief? How scary!) Sabet would prefer FDA approval of safe drugs (y’know, like Vioxx, Phen-Fen, and Yaz) containing the constituents of cannabis, packaged and sold in precise formulations and dosages. “What we need to do is figure out the things in marijuana that are effective medicines, and we’re very close to doing that, figure out what the effective doses are and bring it to market,” Voth said.

Sabet and Voth both tried to paint Morgan as a multi-millionaire trying to use medical marijuana as a front for legalization. “It’s hard to have a civil conversation with someone who is so disagreeable,” Sabet said of Morgan’s “vitriolic and personal attacks.” But before the debate, Sabet tweeted, “About to debate John Morgan and Allan [sic] St Pierre at UT. If this is about medicine, why am I debating a trial lawyer and legalization crusader?” Then, after the debate, Sabet snapped a picture of Morgan getting into his limousine and tweeted it out, adding, “Florida’a [sic] biggest supporter of marijuana gets into his massive stretch limo tonight after our debate-How predictable.” So if you’re keeping score, calling Sabet a fear-selling political hack is “vitriolic and personal,” but Sabet impugning Morgan’s wealth, career and debate partner is not.

St. Pierre concluded that medical marijuana in Florida is going to pass, saying, “This is about personal freedom and self-preservation, and you can’t win in America when you fight personal freedom and self-preservation.’’ One member of the audience fighting for self-preservation, my friend Cathy Jordan, who has successfully outlived her Lou Gehrig’s disease for almost three decades thanks to medical marijuana, dismissed Sabet’s and Voth’s calls to wait for clinical FDA trials on marijuana medications, adding, “Some people can’t wait.”

"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of The Russ Belville Show, which airs live at 3pm Pacific.