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Budding Support for Marijuana Legalization May Lead to Contentious Fight

A cannabis farm
Wikimedia Commons
A cannabis farm

Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in Florida got a big boost this week from Orlando attorney John Morgan. He's credited with helping to legalize medical marijuana by advocating for Amendment 2 in 2016. 

Morgan backs the inclusion of a question about the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state's 2020 ballot. The proposed initiative would require nearly 800,000 signatures of registered voters and a review by Florida's Supreme Court to make it to the voters. The proposed amendment would require 60 percent of  approval to become law.A Quinnipiac University poll taken earlier this summer shows increased support for legalizing marijuana. 61% of those questioned were in favor  of legalization in their community, while 34% were not. But changing the law may not be a slam dunk. 


Florida Representative Shevrin Jones (D-West Park) introduced a bill this week to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. His proposal (HB 25), seeks to reduce criminal penalties for possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis, and products that contain less than 600 milligrams of THC, the chemical compound in cannabis responsible for making individuals "high." The bill also includes criminal justice reforms that would make juveniles arrested for possession of minimal amounts of cannabis eligible for civil citations or pre-arrest diversion programs.


Rep. Jones appeared on The Florida Roundup this week to discuss why he wants to change the law. Dara Kam, Senior Reporter from the News Service of Florida, was also a guest.




An excerpt from the conversation follows.

The Florida Roundup:  Representative Jones, from where you sit in the legislature there will certainly be powerful vested interests who oppose your bill. What about the state's private prison industry? 

JONES: I can't speak for those individuals who will lobby against the bill. My hope is that, the way that we present this bill to my Republican colleagues, who might disagree with this will come from a level of cost savings for the state.

As far as youth,  (...) we know substance use may not be good for their brain development, but we have to address that from a public health strategy and not through criminal procedure. But I've been notified that there were 20 kids in Broward County last year that receive felonies for possessing THC.

So these are young people losing their scholarships, their driving privileges, maybe getting prison time, probation, and all of these enormous fines.  Me as a millennial also, I do wish the times change a tad bit. But I also know that in all of these things, of course, there will be individuals that will lobby against something like this. I don't know what groups, or how that looks, but my hope is that we look at this from a cost-savings perspective here within the state of Florida.  

Dara Kam, do you see those arguments gaining traction or not? Do you still see this being a politically contentious fight in Florida?

KAM: I do see it as a contentious fight. I don't think it's an ageist attitude because some of the people that I talked about who are against full legalization are millennials, and certainly baby boomers grew up you with the wake and bake.

We had all demographics supporting medical marijuana in Florida three years ago. I don't think that there's any kind of variance based on that.  I will say that these studies that the Republican leadership point to about the negative impacts of marijuana on the developing brain, people push back against those and say they're overstating what the reality is.

I don't want to advocate one way or another. I'm just saying that's what they rely on. It is a politically charged issue. I think that if the federal government does in fact de-schedule marijuana as a schedule-one drug, that would make it easier for Republican leaders to embrace marijuana as OK. I think that would be a step in the right direction.

What John [Morgan] said to me the other day is, 'if we get the medical marijuana operators, who are spending upwards of 50 million dollars to purchase medical marijuana treatment center licenses in Florida, then they have plenty of money to spend on a constitutional amendment getting the signatures and getting it on to the ballot.'

So I don't think that money will be an issue in that arena. It's just a question of it's getting a little bit late in the game. They have to have all of their signatures in by I think it's February of next year and so it's a little bit late to start that effort and a lot of it will depend on the language of the proposal.

Remember that, in Florida, we had the first attempt at getting medical marijuana passed failed. Two years later they rewrote it. They tweaked it a little bit and it did pass. So yeah, I think it's attitudes. I mean, everyone's attitudes towards marijuana have shifted and the use of it as a medical treatment, which it is now a legitimate medical treatment for people with a whole host of ailments, has normalized it. It is becoming normalized. I just don't see our state—a pretty conservative state- embracing full legalization.  

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Denise Royal