New polling numbers show strong bipartisan support and an all-star cast of political operatives are coalescing around a push to put a medical marijuana referendum on the 2014 Florida ballot, according to a Miami Herald report this week. The effort faces many logistical and monetary obstacles, but deserves serious consideration for voters and the Legislature, which could clear many of those obstacles by simply putting the measure on the ballot itself.
We have argued in the past that not only should marijuana be allowed for medical purposes, but that it should be legalized or at least decriminalized. 24 states and the District of Columbia have either legalized, decriminalized or allowed medical marijuana. Of those eighteen states have medical marijuana laws and two, Colorado and Washington, legalized pot outright last year. A legalization referendum will be on California’s ballot in 2014 after narrowly losing in 2010.
The case for medical marijuana in Florida is strong, especially given the state’s elderly demographics. The prospective ballot language specifies the conditions for which physicians can prescribe pot. It reads like a litany of diseases that afflict our aging population: Alzheimer’s, cachexia, cancer, chronic pain, chronic nervous system disorders, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and other seizure disorders, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. The measure also would provide doctor’s with dicretion for prescribing marijuana to treat other ailments, leeway they have with many other prescription drugs. Among conditions or diseases commonly treated with marijuana are migraines, insomnia, lupus, Post-Tramatic Stress Syndrome, anxiety and appetite loss.
We support the medical marijuana effort as a first step toward overall legalization in Florida and nationwide. The medical marijuana measure is a no-brainer considering the medical oversight built into the proposed law. Far more dangerous drugs than marijuana are prescribed to millions of Floridians each year. Thousands of prescription drug abusers die from overdoses of illegally obtained drugs, such as oxycodone.
Florida already treats marijuana possession in a pseudo decriminalized manner, diverting cases through non-criminal drug courts that levy light fines, rare jail sentences, probation and drug counseling. True decriminalization would reduce even that wasteful administrative overhead to revenue-producing civil fines similar to traffic tickets. Outright legalization would eliminate even that waste of law enforcement resources to more pressing public safety issues.
With a poll conducted for People United for Medical Marijuana showing support for a medical marijuana referendum at 70 percent, the measure would easily clear the state’s 60-percent threshold. But getting on the ballot won’t be easy, as it requires verified signatures from more than 680,000 registered voters, a process that would cost up to $3.5 million, according to the Herald report. That’s why the Legislature should take it on.
That medical marijuana would relieve symptoms and raise the quality of life of thousands of residents should be enough reason to approve it. But at a time when government waste and scarce revenues are a priority for voters and elected officials, it makes sense that Floridians would support a measure that would reduce waste and generate revenue.