On June 16, with much fanfare and self-
congratulation, Gov. Rick Scott signed the so-called Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 into law. It legalized a non-euphoric strain of pot called Charlotte's Web, authorized a few centers around the state to conduct research on low-THC dope, and established an Office of Compassionate Use. And so you saw headlines sprout up on websites hither and yon to the effect of "Florida Legalizes Medical Marijuana," often accompanied by Scott's smiling mug.
But it comes with a caveat, a mechanism of
control worthy of the late-stage Soviet Union. The distribution and production of Charlotte's Web will be choke-held by Tallahassee, with prescribing doctors and producers subject to stringent regulation.
In Northeast Florida, that regulation will ensure that very few nurseries will be eligible to service Charlotte's Web patients — one industry insider told me that maybe just one meets the
legislation's requirements: three decades of
continuous operation and a registration certificate qualifying the vendor to grow at least 400,000 plants. And there's no guarantee that the few that can do it actually will.
There are other issues on the horizon, too, that may limit the law's impact. In theory, for instance, the law would allow public education institutions like the University of Florida's Institute of Food & Agriculture Sciences to conduct research on the benefits of medical marijuana. But doing so may compromise IFAS' eligibility for federal research funding. As an IFAS rep acknowledged when I called, the institute is wary of the gap between state and federal law. Marijuana — even low-grade marijuana whose only possible use is medicinal — is still considered a Schedule I drug by the federal government, just like heroin and LSD, somehow more prone to dependency and abuse than Schedule II drugs like meth and cocaine.
Even though Florida has now joined more than 20 other states in openly flouting federal law in the name of compassion, and even though the Justice Department announced last year that it would not, for the most part, challenge state laws permitting medical or recreational pot use, complications will arise.
All that aside, the law is a step forward — or at least it seems that way. But if you scrape just below the surface, there are political reasons for the Sunshine State to step through this gateway and onto the path of least resistance.
It all comes back to Amendment 2, the broader-scope medical marijuana initiative that will be on the ballot this November. Career politicians, from Scott to the GOP-run Legislature on down, want to stop Amendment 2 from achieving the needed 60-percent threshold. Locally, figures like Sheriff John Rutherford hyperbolize against it, claiming that "We're going to have medical marijuana in every backpack in every school in every county" and other such ridiculousness.
Key Democrats are mute; the ones who support it aren't exactly loud and proud, and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and Sen. Bill Nelson both remain mum. That's still better than Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the South Florida congresswoman and head of the national Democratic Party, who sparred recently with Charlie Crist patron John Morgan over his high-profile support of medical marijuana.
Meanwhile, Republicans like State Sen. Aaron Bean are out front, framing the narrative in a way their base will swallow.
Bean told me that while he opposes medical marijuana in general, he saw how Charlotte's Web helped children. Consistent with the mainstream Republican position, he asserts that California-style medical marijuana systems are akin to "pill mills" and prone to "widespread abuse." Legalized pot, Bean argues, would lead to a spike in crime, and "would only draw more heavily on public resources" than the status quo.
We've heard all this, some of it for 30 years, and there's plenty of evidence it's bogus. In fact, crime in Denver has gone down since Colorado legalized marijuana. But who makes these points as emphatically as the "Don't Let Florida Go To Pot" crowd makes theirs? No one, outside of John Morgan and his checkbook, as far as I can see.
Politicians who sympathize with Amendment 2 should consider getting on their voters' level and leveling with us with at least half the passion that Rutherford and Bean put into advocating for the failed status quo. Amendment 2 will fail if its advocates continue to relinquish control of the narrative to those political lifers poised to benefit from things staying as they are, the phony Reagan-conservative wannabes who have stolen liberties for decades, under the cover of flag pins and security emergencies.