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Why Florida Republicans Can’t Afford To Be Stoned About Pot Legalization

The 2015 Legislative Session begins this week, and the issue of legislating progressive changes to existing marijuana laws will certainly stump the Right. Sunshine State brethren almost passed a constitutional amendment – the dearly departed Amendment 2 – authorizing prescriptions of medical marijuana to ease the suffering of patients with ALS, cancer, AIDS and some other afflictions but it fell short of the required 60 percent public approval. If Jeb Bush chooses to make marijuana his Battle of Waterloo, he does so at his party’s peril.

  1. Support for marijuana is overwhelmingly in favor of medical marijuana and decriminalization. A new Pew Research poll shows six-in-10 Republican-leaning Millennial voters (those under the age of 34) said they favor legalizing cannabis. Seventy-seven percent of surveyed Democrats in the same age group held that view.  When the average age of a Fox News viewer is 68.8, the GOP better “youthanize” its social policies.
  2. In 2014, Florida voters sent a strong message supporting the reformation of marijuana laws. A Quinnipiac University Poll from 2014 found that almost 90 percent of voters supported the legal use of medical marijuana, if prescribed by a doctor. If anything, Amendment 2’s narrow failure helped electrify support for medical marijuana, as Amendment 2 became a martyr that made waves along the Gulf and East Coasts. For the first time in Florida history, a Broward jury acquitted marijuana grower Jesse Teplicki on all charges after finding he has a medical need for the illegal drug, which he grows for his own medicinal purposes, not to sell to others. Moreover, a new public petition drive is underway to put a measure on the 2016 state ballot, which is when the electorate will be younger and less conservative.
  3. When it comes to marijuana, the GOP stumps progress.  In the past few weeks, I have spoken with five Republican legislators – which represent more than 10% of the Florida Senate – and four of these government officials assured me they had no intention of supporting any reformation on marijuana law.  They all repeated the now defunct (and disproved) “gateway drug” argument and said they objected to the Charlotte’s Web bill that passed last year.  This might explain why the law sits dormant: The Florida Department of Health is still hashing out the rules of the new Charlotte’s Web law, which means bureaucratic red tape prevents the state’s medical-marijuana industry from getting up and running. I also met with a likely permit holder, and he is still waiting to see how his plants can be grown, processed, and sold. Mothers and fathers of children with intractable illnesses like epilepsy understandably want permit holders to begin their work immediately.

It would be embarrassing for Jeb Bush to win the nomination of his party but lose the war – Florida – all because the GOP would rather act like Mary Poppins and embrace a spoonful of “nanny state” thinking.

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