When I was asked to assume the position of being Folio Weekly’s official medical marijuana correspondent, I was thrilled, but perhaps I erred by informing the general public beforehand. Or maybe not; I suppose we will all find out together. What soon became apparent was that the people of Northeast Florida have a whole lot of questions about our state’s efforts to implement the legislation passed last Nov. 8–one of the few notable victories in an election year that will forever live in infamy, for obvious reasons. They had almost as many answers, a shocking percentage of which were actually correct. I learned plenty, and quickly.
As Kelis would say, I can teach you, but I have to charge. Amendment 2 passed with 71.3 percent of the statewide vote last November. Voter turnout was 75 percent, the highest level since 2008, a 32 percent increase from the 2014 turnout, when a similar amendment narrowly failed to pass. Every single county voted “yes,” many by overwhelming margins. “Yes” votes in Duval and Nassau counties almost tripled the “no” votes; they were almost doubled in Baker County, and they were more than doubled in St. Johns and Clay counties.
All told, more than 6.5 million Floridians voted for medical marijuana, a half-million of whom live in this magazine’s distribution range. Florida is now one of 20 states to pass some form of medical marijuana law over the past 20 years, including California (1996); Alaska, Oregon, Washington (’98); Colorado, Nevada, Hawaii (’00); Montana, Vermont (’04); New Mexico (’07); Michigan (’08); Arizona, New Jersey (’10), Massachusetts (’12); Louisiana (’15); Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania (’16). In addition, other states have gone even further and outright legalized recreational possession and use: Colorado, Washington (’12); Alaska, Maryland, Oregon (’14); Delaware (’15); Illinois (’16); California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada (’16); and Vermont (’17).
The most common question I received about the column was: “Why?” Many shared my initial skepticism that the subject could generate enough material to warrant a steady focus. What could there be to say, beyond specifics about the newest dispensaries and sporadic chatter about the internal politics of the issue? At first, I honestly had no idea how I could possibly fill the allotted space–but ohhh, my, was I wrong.
Turns out, in fact, that in our beloved Sunshine State, there are few things more difficult than doing what one thinks would be easy. We have 67 counties, all of which are weird in their own special way, and watching the roll-out of medical marijuana regulations so far this year has provided enough examples to make even the most militant straight-edger feel a little bit loopy. It’s a nightmare in the making for the assorted politicians charged with developing and enforcing these regulations; many are facing tough re-election bids in 2018 and 2019. It remains to be seen just how much this issue will figure into those campaigns.