Florida Moves To Legalize Marijuana (Measure Will Appear on November Ballot)

Amber Houston Greene Publishing, Inc. The Florida Supreme Court has allowed the wording of the ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana use in Florida—now the only thing that stands between the state and legalization is the November polls. If this measure passes during the midterm election, Florida will join 20 other states that have legalized marijuana use in some form. While two states— Washington and Colorado— have legalized use of the substance for recreational purposes, Florida’s measure includes only medical use. Various groups across the state are up in arms over the issue. The Florida Sheriffs Association voted almost unanimously against the issue, citing that it would (they estimated) lead to more crimes and more traffic accidents. 87 percent of Democrats supported the measure in a poll taken by Quinnipiac University last November. A significant percentage—70 percent—of Republicans were in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical use. Governor Rick Scott opposed the issue, saying that the wording of the initiative was too vague and would allow too many people to get their hands on the controlled substance. The Supreme Court did not seem to agree, however, as they passed the measure on January 27. The issue is complex, which accounts for the state’s divided emotions. The measure could save the state money in the long run: while restrictions and enforcement will still apply, the legalization of medical marijuana could reduce the number and collective costs of arrests associated with marijuana use and possession. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Florida made 57,951 marijuana-related arrests in 2010, which cost the state an estimated $125.6 million and accounted for 40 percent of that year’s arrests. However, ensuring that only the right people are in possession of the drug could also prove costly, and legalizing the use of medical marijuana would not stop illegal recreational use or remotely slow the black market sale of the substance. There are political implications as well. Republicans have accused Democrats of pushing the issue to affect the election, projecting that more Democratic voters will be present at the typically low-turnout election because of the issue. More Democratic voters could result in the election of a Democratic candidate—namely Democratic challenger Charlie Crist. Florida has not elected a Democratic governor since 1994. Republican incumbent, Governor Rick Scott, opposes the measure and has done so quite strongly. The petition to place this measure on the November ballot got over and above the signatures it needed to be considered for placement on the ballot. In November, all it will need is 60% of voters to approve it—a pittance compared to last year’s Quinnipiac Poll, which showed the aforementioned 70 percent Republican favor, 87 percent Democrat favor, and 88 percent Independent favor.

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