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Opponents debate medical marijuana at Epilepsy Foundation forum

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Activists, neurologists, patients and parents are some of the voices calling attention to the medical marijuana amendment on Florida's November ballot.

The Epilepsy Foundation of Florida held a forum to discuss the amendment Thursday night at Florida Coastal School of Law. 

The Foundation organized the forum but is not taking a side on the issue.

"The best outcome -- people walking away feeling they learned a little bit about epilepsy and medical marijuana," said Viktor El-Saieh, executive director of Epilepsy Foundation Northeast.

United for Care representative Elias Egozi voiced his position Thursday.

"A lot of these people are at their last resort. They've dealt with every narcotic or pharmaceutical they can find on this planet," Egozi said. "And none of it has worked. So a lot of them, I think, are looking for a new treatment option. Hopefully, Amendment 2 would provide that."

Lawrence Jefferson said he attended as a concerned citizen but joined the panel to discuss his concerns over passing an amendment to the Florida Constitution.

"We just definitely need to look at this, and some issues that I believe are going to come out," Jefferson said. "That'll explain why this is a bad idea."

The big concern for Cathy Klein, another panelist, is getting legal and effective care for her 10-year-old son, who suffers from epilepsy.

She's hoping for something more than the narrow strain approved by Florida's Senate last spring.

"Charlotte's Web is awesome. That's going to help a lot of people, but we need to open it up to everybody who needs it," Klein said. "Just like other meds, one antibiotic doesn't help everybody, you need several, because different people need different things. That's how I look at it."

Doctors on the panel didn't want to speak on camera and several people said they didn't want any part of the political battle over marijuana.

Voters have about 30 days to make their decision.

"We don't take sides in the political debate," El-Saieh said. "But we're committed to improving the lives of Floridians living with epilepsy. So we thought it was important to bring people together just to have an intelligent discussion about it."

Thursday's forum is really just the conversation starter for the next month. United for Care, for instance, plans a bus tour statewide starting Monday.

The Epilepsy Foundation will also hold panel discussions around the state throughout October. For more information on those discussions, go to www.efof.org.

About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.