Public opinion on marijuana use is shifting dramatically. Just 10 years ago, polls showed that right around half of Americans supported wholesale legalization, including recreational use. In recent polls, however, national support has grown into a solid majority, ranging around 65%. Last week, a statewide poll had Floridians 64% in favor of total legalization.
Eleven states have followed that lead, legalizing the sale and use of recreational pot. Of the rest, all but three have authorized marijuana to be dispensed for medical use — and in many of those states, the definition of “medical” has been stretched mighty thin. (As Tuesday’s edit pointed out, some Florida doctors are advertising that they will write medical marijuana recommendations for conditions as far-fetched as obesity, stuttering and writer’s cramp — and that’s under the aegis of a 2016 constitutional amendment that was supposed to be strictly written to limit use to serious conditions such as cancer and debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder.)
Meanwhile, communities across Florida have recognized the foolishness and cruelty of derailing lives over the possession and use of a substance that most people regard as about as dangerous as alcohol — if that. The result is a well-intentioned but confusing (and often poorly drafted) patchwork of local ordinances that allow so-called “civil citations” to be issued for people caught with small amounts of pot.
As soon as 2020, Florida voters could be asked if they want to stop the charade and decriminalize marijuana altogether. Two constitutional amendments are advancing steadily toward the ballot that would do just that.
Florida voters can expect to be approached at least a few times in the next few months and asked to sign a petition. There aren’t that many differences between the two proposals, but one appears to be a little more consumer-friendly and free-market, while the other has more financial resources.
Regulate Florida/Sensible Florida was the first one out of the gate. It would regulate marijuana the same way the state regulates alcohol — which would open the market and allow Floridians to grow their own marijuana in small amounts. It faces an uphill battle to the ballot, with just $200,000 in contributions so far and fewer than 100,000 of the 766,200 signatures it needs by Jan. 1 (giving county elections supervisors 30 days to verify signatures and turn them in by Feb. 1).
Make It Legal Florida started later — but with strong financial backing from some in Florida’s medical-pot industry, it can afford more paid signature-gatherers. It would use the same structure as medical marijuana, which funnels business to a handful of licensed, “vertically integrated” companies that have the ability to grow and sell marijuana.
Having either amendment on the ballot — or both — should start a debate. And it’s one that seems right about time for Floridians to have.
The growing acceptance, and the steady march toward legalization, don’t change the fundamental realities of marijuana use. There’s little likelihood that marijuana can treat all the conditions its supporters claim. And it’s still a powerful psychoactive substance, with significant and well-documented health risks.
But it’s also something that hundreds of millions of people around the world use, and enjoy, with few negative consequences — and that goes for the states that have legalized marijuana completely. Granting it legal status could open the door for more and better research on the real health benefits. It would do away with the need to go through a physician (which can cost up to $300) to get a state “pot card.” And last week, a state committee estimated it could produce $190 million a year in tax revenue.
In the end, Floridians may decide they don’t want to take the plunge into full legalization just yet. But it’s time to at least ask the question.
An editorial from the Daytona Beach News Journal.