Pubdate: Sat, 01 Feb 2014
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2014 Miami Herald Media Co.
Author: Carl Hiaasen


Medical marijuana will be on the Florida ballot in November, which is
bad news for Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican leaders who oppose
any relaxation of the state's backward cannabis laws.

They say medical use of weed is the first step toward Colorado-style
legalization, and they might be right. They say that although the
proposed constitutional amendment names only nine diseases, lots of
people who aren't really sick will find a way to get marijuana from
certain doctors.

That's probably true, too. This, after all, is the state that made
pill mills a roadside tourist attraction. Who can doubt that future
pot prescriptions will bear the signatures of a Dr. Cheech or a Dr.

But guess what - voters know that, and most don't seem worried.
They've seen what's happened in California, where no anarchy
materialized after medicinal pot was approved.

Nor has the fabric of society disintegrated in the 20 other states and
the District of Columbia, where similar laws are on the books.

In Florida, as is true throughout the country, public surveys continue
to show landslide support for medical marijuana, and a majority
favoring the decriminalization of small amounts for personal use.

This is a thorny problem for conservative Republicans like Scott and
Attorney General Pam Bondi, who are up for re-election. They now have
to sally forth and crusade against a popular cause, trying to stir
fear and doubts among a constituency that's heard it all before.

The main force behind the medical marijuana movement is John Morgan,
an Orlando trial attorney. Morgan is a major Democratic donor who is
close to former governor Charlie Crist, Scott's likely opponent in

One would assume that having medicinal pot on the ballot will draw
more Democrats and independents to the polls, boosting Crist's chances
of beating Scott. However, the high polling popularity of the
marijuana measure means lots of Republican voters like it, too.

For one thing, pot really does help certain patients with glaucoma,
AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other serious medical conditions that
don't discriminate between liberals and conservatives.

For another, marijuana isn't some exotic mystery drug whose effects
are unknown; it's been around so long that it's embedded in our
culture - music, movies, television and literature.

Smoking it is totally a bipartisan groove.

Tallahassee is currently controlled by Republicans, but the Capitol
building would be as quiet as a mausoleum if you got rid of everyone
who came to work with THC in their blood. The same is true for most
big workplaces.

Opponents of the marijuana amendment say the wording is too loose
because it allows cannabis to be prescribed for other medical
conditions besides the specified diseases - if the physician thinks
the benefits outweigh the potential harm.

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston, writing for the
minority in the court's 4-3 decision that approved the ballot item,
criticized a section giving doctors immunity from prosecution for
prescribing marijuana.

"For example, a physician, in his misguided 'professional opinion,'
could believe that the benefits of marijuana for a teething toddler
would likely outweigh the risks," Polston said, "and, therefore,
recommend that the toddler use marijuana three times a day for six
months until the teething subsided."

This bizarre hypothetical assumes that the pediatrician is an
incompetent psychopath, and that the parents of the toddler are
knuckle-dragging morons. That's a recurring theme of the political
opposition to the medical cannabis amendment - people are just too
darn naive to know what's really happening.

Yet on this subject most voters aren't naive, and they've got a fair
idea what's coming.

Of course the law will make marijuana more accessible. Of course many
perfectly healthy people will try to obtain prescriptions, and of
course some doctors will oblige. Of course there will be some abuse,
as there is with alcohol and prescription drugs.

And, of course, because it's Florida, the licensing and regulation of
medicinal cannabis facilities will be haphazard, bumbling and
occasionally corrupt. Big, big money is at stake for the state as well
as for the growers.

There's one huge difference between the phony pain clinics that once
proliferated here and the marijuana dispensaries that will open if 60
percent of voters approve:

Pill mills, which cater to addicts and street dealers, kill lots
people. Pot dispensaries don't.

There's a political risk if Scott, Bondi and the others fight too hard
against marijuana reforms. Public sentiment is strongly against them,
and their scare tactics could backfire in November.

It's better to be downwind from Willie Nelson's bus than to get run
over by it.
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