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. Chong?
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 November.
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.
(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)
AFP Photo/Theo Stroomer