Medical marijuana's unlikely Florida hero is 64-year-old Larcenia Bullard

If you had told Larcenia Bullard 35 years ago — back when she was teaching school kids for a living — she would one day use her lofty platform as a Florida state senator to advocate for marijuana reform, she would have banished you to the principal's office.

"I would not have possibly imagined that to be true," Bullard says, laughing. "It was not an issue I'd given two thoughts to before."

Yet today Bullard, a 64-year-old who spent last year toting an oxygen cart around Tallahassee because of heart problems, has become the unlikely hero of the Sunshine State's budding cannabis movement. When she sponsored a bill last week that would give voters a chance to legalize medical marijuana — bringing pot reform bills to both the Senate and House for the first time in three decades — her phone started blowing up.

"I've been shocked at the number of people calling and promising to come to the capitol to talk about how medical cannabis has helped them," Bullard says.

The elderly politician's late-career move toward pot activism was sparked by her mother's death and her own serious illness. Bullard, first elected to represent South Dade and Monroe in the Senate in 2002 after a decade in the House, watched her mom deteriorate from Alzheimer's disease until her death last May.

As Bullard recovered from her own bout of heart disease at home, she began reading studies about marijuana's benefits to those with Alzheimer's.

"For patients like my mother, whose only options are medicines with intolerable side effects or diseases which take away their ability to live, cannabis can really help," she says.

The more she read about the ten other states that have legalized medical pot, the more she believed the move could also help cure Florida's $2 billion budget gap.

With Tallahassee gripped by an ugly redistricting fight and Republicans leery of all things hemp, Bullard realizes getting traction on marijuana reform won't be easy.

"At least I can open the door to a discussion," she says. "I'm going to support this as long as I'm in office."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink