A somewhat surprising number of Florida's biggest and most influential newspapers have come out against medical marijuana. The Orlando Sentinel, the Tampa Bay Times, and the Florida Times-Union are just a few.
None of those editorials actually bashes the idea of medical marijuana. They're cool with it, in theory. They just think that it should be an issue decided on by the Florida Legislature and that the amendment is too vague and will cause some sort of abuse. What kind of abuse? No one knows -- the editorials are being very vague about it.
This of course ignores two key points:
1. There is no way the Florida Legislature in its current Republican-controlled form will legalize medical marijuana (and this amendment failing will give it more reasons not to do so).
2. Floridians already smoke tons and tons and tons of marijuana.
First, a quick taste of these editorials.
First, the amendment plays too fast and loose with the conditions a patient must have to get a doctor's approval for medical marijuana ... The amendment also allows doctors to recommend marijuana use for ''other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.' That leaves a gaping loophole for even well-meaning doctors to exploit. Other states that have legalized medical marijuana have a closed list of treatable conditions and require approval by a state agency such as the health department to make additions.
The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville):
Critics warn that the amendment is too vague and will lead to abuses like pill mills. Supporters say that the Department of Health would be required to monitor centers that produce and distribute it, but that would create new burdens on the state government ... Careful and controlled expansion within the halls of the Legislature is the way to go for true medical marijuana, not this overly vague amendment.
The Tampa Tribune raised the prospect of a repeat of the Pill Mill fiasco, which is ridiculous:
As Tampa OB-GYN Dr. Madelyn Butler says, "Welcome to pill mills part two."
The Orlando Sentinel doesn't think it will be pill mills part two, but worries there will be some flaws (without naming those potential flaws) that will need to be fixed.
It might not result in Pill Mills 2.0. However, any potential flaws would be far easier (and cheaper) for lawmakers to tweak in statute than to address through another amendment.
The Times, Tribune, and Sentinel are Florida's three largest newspapers by circulation. (Sorry, Miami Herald.) These are not inconsequential endorsements, and that makes them even more disconcerting.
1. This is not Pill Mills 2.0 or anything close to it.
You can't grow pain pills in a hydroponic setup in your closet. Those are complicated chemicals that need to be synthesized in a lab. Because of that fact, it was often easier and cheaper for people to get a consistent supply of pain pills through those clinics than it was through the black market. This will not be true of medical marijuana.
Oh, and by the way, study after study finds that fatal pain pill overdoses drop significantly in states that legalize medical marijuana.
2. People who smoke pot recreationally will continue to get their supply on the black market.
To obtain medical marijuana, people will have to obtain a license, get a doctor's approval, and drive to a dispensary. All of this leaves behind a paper trail, and the penalties associated with getting caught scamming the system will likely be much higher than simply buying a dime bag from your neighborhood guy. Plus, medical marijuana isn't covered by health insurance.
So do we really think people will go through all of that trouble just to score medical marijuana when they can text their guy and he'll deliver it to their house in half an hour for less money? The worst crime they're looking at there is possession, not medical fraud.
Despite some myths, medical marijuana is not necessarily better than black-market stuff to recreational users. It's cultivated to help combat certain symptoms and not necessarily for the best high.
A lot of people smoke pot regularly in Florida and continue to do so without ever getting caught. It's pretty easy to get marijuana already, folks. Common sense holds that few people will switch from the black market to attempt to game the medical marijuana system for recreational use. A new study in California supports this common sense and finds few people who smoke medical marijuana do so for purely recreational reasons.
3. Medical marijuana legalization does not increase the overall number of people who smoke pot.
A recent study shows that legalizing medical marijuana has no effect on the number of teenagers who smoke pot. None. Even in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, officials found that the people buying legal pot were the people who used to buy illegal pot.
The only new smokers that medical marijuana legalization is likely to create are people who need it for medical reasons.
4. The Florida Legislature has the power to set up the system.
The state Supreme Court has already ruled that the wording of the amendment is not vague. The state Department of Health is given wide discretion to set up the system the way its sees fit, and DOH answers to the Legislature.
5. The Legislature will not take up these issues on its own.
It's a body left completely in the control of Republicans thanks to gerrymandering, and unless the NRA or ALEC decides to get behind medicinal pot, it's unlikely the Legislature will take up the issue anytime soon. No leaders have signaled they're willing to do so if the amendment fails, and, in fact, if the amendment fails, they'll only point to it as a sign that Floridians don't want medical marijuana.
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The vague concerns reported by these newspapers don't hold up. None of them bothered to check studies, examples from other states, or even their own common sense. They think there will be vast problems that can be fixed only if marijuana were legalized through legislation, without actually naming any of those problems.
Don't take it from us. Take it from Florida Today, a newspaper editorial board that actually did its research and came out in favor of the amendment:
Still, we've heard some imaginative criticisms of it, including alleged loopholes that would allow doctors to prescribe pot for hangnails or let drug dealers deliver cannabis to schoolchildren.
Concerned, we scoured the full language and history of the proposed amendment and -- like the Florida Supreme Court -- found it to be straightforward and carefully written.
We also reviewed large-scale studies from the 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana. That research shows warnings about crime, addiction and youth drug use are overblown and contrary to experience in places like California.