m.d. m.j.

Cold Weather, HOT Buds

Future of legal marijuana in U.S., Florida heats up

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The air is cold in Florida right now, but the action is hot, and sure to get even hotter as this crucial midterm year rolls along. Medical marijuana advocates descended on Tallahassee for the start of the state’s legislative session that began on Jan. 9, bringing with them a wish list almost as long as the one I’m compiling for my epochal 40th birthday next month. Leading the way is the Florida Cannabis Action Network (FL CAN), which has blazed a trail on this issue since the early 1990s. FL CAN had been trying to get medical marijuana on state ballots since at least 1994, but it was some 22 years before its efforts finally bore fruit—or, shall we say, flower.

Actually, we shall not say “flower,” because the smokable herb itself remains prohibited under current law, and will remain so for at least another year, though changing that is up near the top of the agenda. It’s unclear at this point whether advocates will try to roll the dice again on another ballot referendum, as apostates will be digging in their heels, resisting what they will rightly perceive as yet another precipitous step toward the end-game of full decriminalization, a goal that even the most optimistic observers concede is still a very long way off. But then again, with so many moving parts this year, truly anything could happen, Republican majority be damned. (Seriously—damn them. They suck. But you already knew that; you know how to read.)

Pro-pot proselytizers in Florida are getting a little help from their counterparts on the national level, with a number of heavy-hitters from the Washington, D.C. Beltway joining the fray, led by Cory Booker, author of the Marijuana Justice Act, which seeks to decriminalize pot on the federal level, while also clearing the slate for thousands of Americans who’ve been burdened with nonviolent pot convictions over the years. Booker has already introduced the bill in the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future amid the general political turmoil of our times.

The MJA has just taken a big step forward, as Booker held a presser on Wednesday, Jan. 17 to announce that his bill is now being introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by California congress-folk Barbara Lee and Rohit “Ro” Khanna, both Democrats. His legislation has quickly gained traction, as evidenced by a similar bill being reintroduced to the legislature just last week, courtesy of State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who tweeted, “Proud to lead the charge on statewide cannabis decriminalization w/ this legislation two years in a row!” His bill would see pot re-categorized as a non-criminal civil violation, reducing penalties for possession to up to a $100 fine or 15 hours of community service. Minors could be sentenced to up to 15 hours of community service, a drug treatment program, or both.

Ocoee Democrat Randolph Bracy will be filing the same bill in the State Senate very soon. Odds of either bill’s passage on the state or federal level aren’t great, but anything could happen within this midterm season’s chaos. In the meantime, the responsibility remains largely in the hands of cities and counties, and as pro-pot forces continue to coalesce, expect to see them bringing more and more pressure to bear on local lawmakers as the year speeds along.

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