More States Consider Legalizing Marijuana

Despite the drug still being illegal under federal law, the Obama administration has said it will not interfere with the roll-out of legal marijuana in the states for several reasons, including whether the state is successful in keeping it out of the hands of minors. At least 14 states — including Florida, where an initiative has already qualified for the ballot — are considering new medical marijuana laws this year, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalization, and 12 states and the District of Columbia are contemplating decriminalization, in which the drug remains illegal, but the penalties are softened or reduced to fines. Medical marijuana use is already legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia. An even larger number of states, at least 17, have seen bills introduced or initiatives begun to legalize the drug for adult use along the lines of alcohol, the same approach used in Colorado and Washington, but most of those efforts are considered unlikely of success this year. The allure of tax revenues is also becoming a powerful selling point in some states, particularly after Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado said last week that taxes from legal marijuana sales would be $134 million in the coming fiscal year, much higher than had been predicted when the measure was passed in 2012. In Rhode Island, which is struggling financially, national and local advocates for legalization say the Colorado news is sure to help legislation introduced in February to legalize the drug. “Some feel it’s not an appropriate issue for an election year, and others want to wait and see what happens in Colorado,” said State Senator Joshua Miller, a Democrat who is sponsoring the Rhode Island legalization law. “But a lot of other people are very anxious to take the revenue part of this very seriously.” Opponents of legalization, meanwhile, are mobilizing across the country to slow the momentum, keeping a sharp eye on Colorado for any problems in the rollout of the new law there. “Legalization almost had to happen in order for people to wake up and realize they don’t want it,” Mr. Sabet said. “In a strange way, we feel legalization in a few states could be a blessing.” California had been considered a possibility to legalize marijuana this year through a ballot proposition — one to do just that failed in 2010 — but the Drug Policy Alliance, which had been leading the effort, decided this month to wait until 2016. While much of the recent attention has focused on these legalization efforts, medical marijuana may also cross what its backers consider an important threshold this year — most notably in the South where Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are among the states considering such laws. John Morgan, an Orlando lawyer whose firm includes former Gov. Charlie Crist, has spent $3.6 million of his own money to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot in Florida, where a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in November showed that eight in 10 Florida voters support medical marijuana. State law requires 60 percent to pass. Mr. Morgan insists that his initiative is not intended to help Mr. Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, reclaim the governorship. Election data, compiled by Just Say Now, a pro-marijuana group, showed that the percentage of the vote that came from people under 30 increased significantly from 2008 to 2012 in states that had marijuana initiatives. This youth vote, predominantly Democratic, rose to 20 percent from 14 percent in Colorado, and to 22 percent from 10 percent in Washington, both far above the 1...

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Is Florida Ready for Medical Marijuana?

Florida’s Governor Rick Scott and other Republican leaders who oppose any relaxation of the state’s backward cannabis laws aren’t happy. Why you might ask? Well it’s because medical marijuana will be on the Florida ballot in November. They say medical use of marijuana is the first step toward Colorado-style legalization, and they might be right. They say that although the proposed constitutional amendment names only nine diseases, lots of people who aren’t really sick will find a way to get marijuana from certain doctors. That’s probably true, too. This, after all, is the state that made pill mills a roadside tourist attraction. But guess what — voters know that, and most don’t seem worried. They’ve seen what’s happened in California, where no anarchy materialized after medicinal marijuana was approved. Nor has the fabric of society disintegrated in the 20 other states and Washington, DC, where similar laws are on the books. In Florida, as is true throughout the country, public surveys continue to show landslide support for medical marijuana, and a majority favoring the decriminalization of small amounts for personal use. This is a thorny problem for conservative Republicans like Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who are up for re-election. They now have to push forward and crusade against a popular cause, trying to stir fear and doubts among a constituency that’s heard it all before. The main force behind the medical marijuana movement is John Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney. Morgan is a major Democratic donor who is close to former governor Charlie Crist, Scott’s likely opponent in November. One would assume that having medicinal marijuana or pot on the ballot will draw more Democrats and independents to the polls, boosting Crist’s chances of beating Scott. However, the high polling popularity of the marijuana measure means lots of Republican voters like it, too. For one thing, pot really does help certain patients with glaucoma, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other serious medical conditions that don’t discriminate between liberals and conservatives. For another, marijuana isn’t some exotic mystery drug whose effects are unknown; it’s been around so long that it’s embedded in our culture — music, movies, television and literature. Smoking it is totally a bipartisan union. Tallahassee is currently controlled by Republicans, but the Capitol building would be as quiet as a library if you got rid of everyone who came to work with THC in their blood. The same is true for most big workplaces. Opponents of the marijuana amendment say the wording is too loose because it allows cannabis to be prescribed for other medical conditions besides the specified diseases — if the physician thinks the benefits outweigh the potential harm. Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston, writing for the minority in the court’s 4-3 decision that approved the ballot item, criticized a section giving doctors immunity from prosecution for prescribing marijuana. “For example, a physician, in his misguided ‘professional opinion,’ could believe that the benefits of marijuana for a teething toddler would likely outweigh the risks,” Polston said, “and, therefore, recommend that the toddler use marijuana three times a day for six months until the teething subsided.” This bizarre hypothetical assumes that the pediatrician is an incompetent psychopath, and that the parents of the toddler are knuckle-dragging morons. That’s a recurring theme of the political opposition to the medical cannabis amendment — people are just too darn naive to know what’s really happening. If you think about it logically, what would stop the same doctor from prescribing oxycodone to the same toddler, under the current laws? Yet on this subject most voters aren’t naive,...

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