By: Diane Emeott Korzen Contributing Writer
U.S. Army Veteran Jose Belen was only 20 years old when he arrived to serve in the Iraq Invasion in 2003. He served in a Field Artillery unit there for three years, turning both 21 and 22 in Iraq during the 14 consecutive months he and his unit were deployed there.
He and his unit did mostly urban operations, assigned to secure Baghdad and spearhead operations in hope of capturing or neutralizing Saddam Hussein and any of his regime.
“While in combat, we lost brothers and sisters to combat fatalities; I witnessed the horrors of war, watching a child die in front of my eyes. War is the closest thing to hell on earth. I was honorably discharged in 2005, after fulfilling my obligation to our country and defending its freedoms. [Thus] began my 14-year battle with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Today, Belen is involved in suicide prevention for veterans through his non-profit organization Mission Zero, (www.missionzero.us). The suicide rate amongst veterans is over 8,000 annually.
He said that cannabis has allowed him to function again, to be the husband and father his family deserves, and from 2007 to 2017 to become one of the top insurance professionals in the country, while silently battling PTSD.
He said he would have ended his life in Fall 2016 had he not surrendered his firearms to his wife two months before. Strong side effects had kicked in while taking two medications prescribed jointly for depression, anxiety and sleep. He said the VA doctor later acknowledged making a “mistake” in putting him on both medicines at the same time. He said he white knuckled through withdrawal from the other medications and began using only cannabis.
The Founder & CEO of Florida Mission Zero Inc., was one of about 56 residents who attended Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer’s Wednesday night, Feb. 6 Town Hall at Spanish River Library. Belen entered into a discussion on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries – one of many topics discussed at the meeting.
Another veteran asked what is going on locally with medical marijuana dispensaries, why there is currently a ban on them in Boca, and why does he [and other residents] have to go somewhere else to get medical marijuana, particularly when head shops are allowed.
Mayor Singer said he is not opposed to the dispensaries, adding that Boca City Council was about to hear a presentation from staff at its second workshop meeting in February “coming up in about 17 days [slated for Monday, Feb. 25]. “We are going to get a recommendation, then I think an ordinance will follow to allow them in the city.”
Singer said one reason why there has been a moratorium on them in Boca has to do with the legal language for “Dispensary” vs. “Cultivation Facility,” when Boca Raton has no agriculture. “Besides, who wants to be the first one out of the box?” he added, saying that cities like Lake Worth and Deerfield Beach, if they allow them, must allow them all over. The State prescribes that pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries must be treated the same.
Some 71 percent of Floridians approved Constitutional Amendment 2 in the November 2016 Election, making personal use of medical marijuana legal in the state for those who suffer from a list of medical conditions including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, or other similarly debilitating conditions.
However, because medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law, all transactions must be cash-based, Singer continued.
Asked whether the dispensaries must be a certain distance from schools, Singer said the issue “needs to be reframed as compassionate care for people who have a need for a medicine. Picture who is going there and what they are going for. It’s not a bunch of stoners trying to get high,” Singer said.
According to Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement (FDL), Amendment 2 did not change Florida’s drug possession laws. Sale or delivery of marijuana is a felony. If perpetrated within 1,000 feet of a school, college, park, or other specified area, it is punishable by a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Resident John Pellegrino started off the ‘questions from the audience’ portion of the meeting, in which everyone in the room got to ask one question.
Pellegrino, from Boca Quay waterfront community, which has to redo its finger piers, commended Singer for “being instrumental in getting the golf course at Boca Teeca, which is in the process of becoming Boca National.
Singer said the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District came to Boca City Council for help at a joint meeting in July. “We asked for a number. They have yet to come back to us with numbers. We are ready to work with them when they are ready,” he said.
One resident asked about development, “At what point are we looking at stopping towers from going up?” Singer gave a brief explanation of the Downtown DRI District, saying a set of regulations approved nearly 30 years ago, in 1992, gave certain rights away.
He said the development that residents have been seeing in the last three or four years actually started six or seven years ago.
“Discretion is limited in certain circumstances. While the height limit is still 12 stories, it can be 140 feet in some cases if buildings use a shrunken envelope profile on top. We have a few buildings like that.”