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(News-Press.com) - Baby boomers are the group that stands to benefit most from medical marijuana, and their numbers may be key to whether Amendment 2 passes or fails, activists say.

In addition, industry experts say boomers 50 and older will likely drive growth of medical marijuana revenue.

The latest poll released Monday by Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University shows an average 88 percent of Floridians are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. Election Day is Nov. 4

"The reason they (Floridians) are overwhelmingly in favor is that disease and injury do not pick political affiliation or age," said Orlando attorney John Morgan, chairman of People United for Medical Marijuana. The group runs the pro-Amendment 2 United for Care Campaign.

"Cancer and ALS strike at random," he said.

University researcher Peter Brown believes whether or not boomers would put Amendment 2 over the top is a nonissue, since support was so high among all demographic groups. Seniors 65 and older are 83 percent in favor. Those 50 to 64 are 86 percent in favor. The group most in favor is 18-29, with 95 percent yes.

"The point is, everybody's for it," Brown said. "Older voters are just a little less for it than everybody else."

But boomers are a major voting block in Florida, with about 7 million older than 50, or nearly 37 percent of the 19 million-plus population, according to the federalAdministration on Aging. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 32.5 percent of Florida's population will be 60 and older by 2030, an increase of 34 percent from 2012.

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Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — also are considered the age group more likely to vote in midterm elections.

"Baby boomers are key because they have lived life and understand," Morgan said. "They are key because they know it works, don't believe in scare tactics from a small handful of sheriffs and have been around it. They are having discussions with their parents and helping them with this discussion."

Morgan is referring to the Florida Sheriffs Association, which is against Amendment 2. The association leads the Don't Let Florida Go to Pot coalition, which has more than 100 partners and organizations that represent medical, drug abuse and law enforcement interests across the state. The coalition argues that no parental consent is required for a minor's access; "caregivers" are not required to have background checks or training; and storefront dispensaries are the equivalent of pill mills.

The United for Care campaign disputes the claims.

It's personal

Morgan became a proponent of medical marijuana after he saw how the plant alleviated pain and suffering of his father, who died of cancer, and brother, a quadriplegic. He contributed about $4 million of his own money to the campaign.

"You have some 70-plus folks who will need it most," Morgan said. "The most common use for medical mj will be at the end of life, where narcotics fail and morphine is next."

Robert Platshorn, founder of The Silver Tour, a nonprofit organization that aims to educate seniors on benefits of medical marijuana, agrees boomers are key.

"Seniors will make or break Amendment 2 in Florida. They are the most powerful voting block in the state and ... they vote," he said. "I will be working overtime to make sure they have a good reason to vote yes." He plans to start a statewide radio campaign next week.

Platshorn knows all about the illegal marijuana industry. He ran the Black Tunas marijuana smuggling gang in the 1970s. He was arrested in 1979 and served 30 years in prison, the longest stretch for a nonviolent marijuana offender in the U.S. He was paroled in 2008.

Platshorn said he formed The Silver Tour four years ago after he saw exit polls whenProposition 19 failed in California. If passed, the measure would have allowed people 21 and older to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use. It would have allowed local governments to regulate and tax commercial pot production and sales. He realized the senior vote had defeated it.

"I was surprised because that's my generation," he said. "We invented pot in the modern sense. Beatniks, hippies, Woodstock. Additionally, I learned that in a bi-election, it's mostly seniors that vote. I also learned that no one was speaking to seniors. No organization and few individuals."

Rabbi Bruce Diamond, 66, of Fort Myers, favors marijuana for medical use, but prefers it be from several low-THC strains, such as Charlotte's Web.

He occasionally used marijuana while in college and graduate school, "although it generally just put me to sleep, and that was pretty boring," Diamond said.

"My fellow boomers need to know that this is not grass we knew in college," he said. "I understand that the varieties they now sell are many times more potent than 'your daddy and mommy's weed."'

He worries about the studies that say newly engineered varieties can more easily create dependency and even induce psychotic episodes.

"I've been around 20-something-year-olds, and I know some people who were hospitalized for marijuana use," Diamond said. "I hope the medical marijuana industry plays straight with us and produces strains like Charlotte's Web that are high in pain and seizure reducing properties and able to help chemo patients' appetites, but really low in THC that can mess you up."

How harmful?

Terri Benincasa, who has a radio show called Boomer Nation (on summer hiatus) with 200,000 listeners in west and central Florida and 50,000 out of state, wishes she could have procured marijuana to help her 91-year-old mother during her illness.

"She understood the tremendous benefit of it ... instead she died in great pain and with overwhelming nausea." Benincasa said.

She said it's absurd medicines far more harmful and addictive than marijuana are lawful. She also believes marijuana should be legalized for recreational use. "I never liked it myself ... I prefer another legalized drug, alcohol, but see it as on par with alcohol, if not less harmful."

On the industry side, Evan Nison, director of Southeast operations for Terra Tech, based in California, says boomers are responsible for the upswing in support for marijuana law reform nationwide. The company, traded publicly, grows medical marijuana and has a dispensary, along with Edible Garden, a hydroponic produce company. He's looking for businesses and growers in Florida to partner with.

"In states like Florida, where there is a large aging population, medical cannabis is even more important," Nison said. "Many would like to use it as a safer alternative to commonly prescribed addicting and deadly medications. With so many potential patients in Florida, we're eager to be able to bring our experience and use our food-grade facilities to produce a safe and reliable medicine for them."

A May study issued by IBISWorld.com, which provides market research and reports for more than 700 industries, states demographic factors will play a role in driving medical marijuana industry growth — namely adults 50 and older.

"Although the success of the marijuana industry is ultimately beholden to the regulatory landscape, in states where medical marijuana use is legal, demographic trends are driving demand," said Dmitry Diment, an industry analyst for the company. "Older individuals are typically more likely to develop the chronic illnesses that require medical marijuana treatment."

The study says the medical marijuana stores industry is expected to grow 26.6 percent annually over the next five years to $8.4 billion.

BOOMERS BY THE NUMBERS

Baby Boomers are expected to drive the growth of the medical marijuana industry because of their growing numbers and greater incidence of ailments that can be treated with the drug.

• From 2014-2019, adults 50 and older are expected to grow 1.6 percent annually to 116.1 million. In comparison, total population is forecast to grow at an average of 0.8 percent over the same period.

• From 2014-2019, the rate of physician visits is expected to increase 2.2 percent annually to 1.3 billion. In the five years previously, visits went up 2.1 percent annually to 1.15 billion.

Source: IBISWorld.com, provides research and analysis for 700 industries.

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