Monday, February 19, 2018
Opinion

Medical marijuana in Florida is no laughing matter

They will gather this morning in Tallahassee to talk about serious matters.

They will hold a news conference to release a white paper filled with reams of scientific research and societal impact. Later, they will meet with staffers from the Attorney General's Office to make a case for the revision of state laws.

And when it's all over, we will make a joke about the munchies. Or maybe Cheech and Chong.

This is typically the way it goes when the conversation turns to the legalization of marijuana. It doesn't matter where you stand in this particular debate, the punch line is always within easy reach.

You see, pot smokers are like the jaywalkers of the drug war. They are, for the most part, harmless and easy to ignore. Or even mock.

Yet beyond the marijuana memes and stoner stereotypes, the cannabis lobby has made serious inroads since California passed the nation's first medicinal law in 1996.

Roughly one out of every three U.S. citizens lives in a state that permits marijuana use for medical purposes. And residents in Washington and Colorado went a step further last week when they voted to make recreational pot smoking legal.

"We know the public is not opposed to making cannabis available. The polls are all going in that direction,'' said Jodi James, the executive director of the Florida Cannabis Action Network. "There is enough momentum throughout the country and enough scientific evidence and enough public support that legislators can see this is coming fast.''

This is why James and her group will meet with some of Pam Bondi's people today to push for cannabis to be reclassified as having medicinal value instead of being lumped in with cocaine, heroin and other illicit drugs.

If Bondi agrees, activists will turn to legislators to pass a law allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana in Florida.

(Insert I'll-have-what-they're-smoking joke here.)

If medicinal marijuana has gained traction around the rest of the country, it has not been embraced by a conservative Legislature in these parts.

The idea was introduced in the state House earlier this year and quickly died in a subcommittee. The same thing happened in the Senate.

Activists will tell you the medicinal possibilities are plentiful (treatments include cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, glaucoma, Alzheimer's and ALS among others) and the downside is negligible.

Beyond medicine, their argument is that marijuana laws cost Americans tons of money between law enforcement, courts, jails and probation requirements. Legalizing pot, on the other hand, could provide revenue streams through retail licenses and sales taxes.

This argument does not sway Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who says money is not the issue.

"We spend all of this time teaching our kids about prescription drug abuse and alcohol abuse, and I don't see the logic of why we would add one more product to the list,'' he said. "If it's ever legalized, it's naïve to think that kids aren't going to be able to get their hands on it. That poses a lot of concerns for me.''

And so the argument goes. Although more seriously than before.

(Insert it's-high-time joke here.)

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