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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: Florida loves its booze, but not its medical marijuana

Published Apr. 27, 2017

Glad to see your dedication to the free market, Rep. Larry Ahern.

You too, Reps. Wengay Newton, Chris Sprowls, Sean Shaw and James Grant.

In fact, there were a dozen state representatives from the Tampa Bay area who decided Wednesday it would be good public policy to allow hard liquor to be sold next to the Pop-Tarts at your neighborhood Walmart or Target.

So can I assume you will show the same free market fervor when it comes to implementing the medical marijuana amendment this week?

Because, I've got to tell you, the Florida House of Representatives is currently looking like the silliest bunch of hypocrites in the land. They are poised to pass a bill that would make it absurdly difficult for patients to get access to medical marijuana just days after making it easier for alcoholics to buy their hooch.

So, if you follow the logic, we need to monitor the heck out of medical doctors treating patients with debilitating or terminal diseases, and yet we'll sell rum and vodka in stores with teenage clerks.

No mixed messaging there, huh?

This is the kind of nonsense that makes it impossible to take state legislators seriously. This isn't a difference of opinion, this is a lack of integrity.

You cannot honestly champion the idea of free market ideals to sell liquor, and then interfere with the availability and cost of medical marijuana by limiting sales to a small group of handpicked farmers.

No one in Florida — other than big-box stores and alcohol manufacturers — was clamoring to change the law that required package stores to operate separately from retailers.

And yet the Legislature made it a priority.

On the other hand, more than 70 percent of Florida voters passed an amendment intended to make medical marijuana available to patients in need.

And yet the Legislature is eager to place restrictions on that amendment.

"Alcohol kills thousands of people every year in Florida, whether that's through traffic fatalities, direct overdoses or repercussions from chronic abuse,'' said Ben Pollara, who engineered the medical marijuana amendment last fall. "Marijuana, meanwhile, has proven medicinal purposes and has the potential to decrease opiate overdose deaths, which are at epidemic levels in Florida.''

There is still a chance that Florida will come to its senses on this issue. The Senate has a proposal, with great influence from Sen. Jeff Brandes, that will allow for greater flexibility in the growing, distributing and acquisition of medical marijuana. The hope is that the Senate and House will negotiate a plan that will not make it too difficult or expensive for patients to get the appropriate medicine.

If that compromise does not happen, then the Department of Health will likely establish rules that will more closely follow the House model. And those rules will also likely be challenged in court.

Not every local House member voted for the alcohol expansion on Wednesday. Reps. Chris Latvala, Kathleen Peters, Dan Raulerson, Ross Spano and Jackie Toledo, in particular, defied GOP leadership on the issue. I may eventually disagree with them if they vote for more restrictive laws on medical marijuana on Friday, but it will be an honest disagreement.

At least they're standing on an established principle.

The rest seem to stand where they're told.

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