Sunday, 27 November 2011

Medical cannabis urged at Freedom Festival in Melbourne | FLORIDA TODAY |

Robert Dundas of Vero Beach designs and prints T-shirts. He is set up for business at / Rik Jesse/FLORIDA TODAY

The Cannabis Freedom Festival continues today at Wickham Park pavilion from noon to 9 p.m. Information:

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MELBOURNE — Cathy Jordan was given about five years to live when she was diagnosed in 1986 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.

Saturday, the 61-year-old from the Tampa Bay area town of Parrish, the president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, continued to defy that death sentence at the Cannabis Freedom Festival in Wickham Park’s main pavilion.

Sitting in her wheelchair, a marijuana leaf painted on her left cheek, Jordan joined dozens of people who showed up to support , legal access to medical cannabis.

Along with speakers and entertainment, guests also found information on the FLCAN hemp ballot initiative, efforts to place the issue on the 2012 ballot, and details on legislative bills to allow medical use of cannabis in Florida.

Personal stories melded with politics at the two-day festival, which continues today.

“I can’t sit at home and do nothing,” said Jordan, a Delaware native. “I thought by now, I wouldn’t have to be doing this.”

FLCAN Vice President Tripp Spring, 60, is former president of the Satellite Beach chapter of AARP.

Spring said he’s seen much support among older Florida residents who have watched friends suffer from debilitating illnesses such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease and ALS, but who also know of success stories from patients using medical cannabis, which is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia.

“I think the majority of people are ready for this,” said Spring.

“Older people have seen all the fear tactics; been frightened by what they’ve heard. When they read our literature, I find, they agree it’s time for a change. They’re among our biggest supporters.”

Keynote speaker Irv Rosenfeld, 58, a stockbroker from Fort Lauderdale, is the country’s longest-surviving legal cannabis recipient and a veteran of the medical marijuana program shut down by the George H.W. Bush administration in the early 1990s.

Misconceptions abound about its use, he said, from it being a “gateway drug” to its effect: “Most patients don’t get a euphoric effect,” said Rosenfeld, who was diagnosed with a tumor-causing genetic disease as a child.

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“Florida needs more of a state law to protect its citizens ... the feds won’t do it. It’s sad, fighting the war on drugs against sick people, wasting money and time ... medical cannabis does no harm. It may not help, but it does no harm. And with some prescriptions, it can enhance the effectiveness.”

It’s sad for Bob Jordan, 63, to watch the pain suffered by his wife and know that in Florida, she can’t legally use medical cannabis.

“I’ve seen this up close and personal for 25 years,” said the Vietnam war veteran. “They said she’d have three years to walk, spend one year in a wheelchair and the last in bed, where she’d choke to death ... I believe it’s kept her alive.”

The first Cannabis Awareness Festival in Brevard County was conducted in 1996, a year after county commissioners said no to the idea and organizers sued the county in federal court, said Jodi James of Melbourne, executive director of FLCAN.

The case was settled for $5,000 but cost the county about $55,000 in legal fees. The last such festival took place in 2002.

Contact Kennerly at 321-242-3692, or on Facebook at