The Politics Of Pot – In Florida

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As billboards like this one go up around MetLife Stadium for the Superbowl, the State Supreme court in Florida just upheld a medical marijuana initiative in the ballot this fall. Governor Rick Scott had tried to block the ballot measure in the court, so he’s stuck defending that position in this November’s gubernatorial race against Charlie Crist, who’s backed the initiative. What’s fascinating about this is that Scott is opposing a ballot measure that 70 percent of Republicans in Florida support – along with 87 and 88 percent among Democrats and Independents respectively.

How big an impact could the initiative have? If it brings out Millennial voters in force in a midterm, it could tip a close race. And if medical pot enables a Democrat to win back Florida, it could truly re-orient the national party even more squarely on the issue. And the GOP would be hard-pressed to fight back hard: this could be the wedge issue of the next few years in some states. But the reason this is good news is not partisan. Florida is almost a text book study in the failure and cruelty of Prohibition:

In 2012, law enforcement uncovered 540 marijuana grow houses in Florida, more than any other state in the country.

While medical marijuana legalization will not stop the state’s black market, some law enforcement experts argue it could help reduce the violent crime associated with illegal drugs and reduce the prison population

In 2010, Florida ranked third in the nation for marijuana arrests, with 57,951, behind New York and Texas, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The number accounted for more than 40 percent of the state’s total arrests that year at a cost of $125.6 million.

Medical marijuana also generates more passion among the liberalizers than the prohibitionists. And it’s hard to stare down their arguments without seeming callous. I mean who would want to run against a version of the drug that prevents seizures in children? Or against a wealthy Florida businessman, John Morgan, who has a story like this:

Morgan’s father had emphysema and lung cancer and used marijuana in the waning days of his life, he said. His brother was paralyzed at 18 after a lifeguard accident and also used it to get relief from the pain of his injury.

Advantage: Crist.