Florida could be one of the next states to remove long-standing prohibitions against MMJ (medical marijuana). In fact, Florida’s MMJ laws could be completely reformed in 2014.
Currently, Florida and federal law agree that the cultivation, distribution and possession of MMJ is prohibited. But an initiative to amend the Florida constitution to allow the use of MMJ will be on November’s ballot. On Election Day, Florida voters will decide which way they want their state to go: making MMJ available legally to patients who can benefit from its use, or staying with the shrinking minority of states that continue to criminalize it.
Where is MMJ Legal?
Since 1996, laws have passed in 20 states and the District of Columbia that give patients access to MMJ and allow its use with no prosecution. All of these laws require a physician’s approval or certification.1
In 2003, Maryland’s legislature passed a medical marijuana affirmation defense law, which reduced criminal penalties for medical use of marijuana. A 2011 amendment removed criminal penalties and fines for citizens who can successfully make the case at trial that use of marijuana is a medical necessity and who possess a limited amount (one ounce or less). An additional amendment was signed into law in 2013, which allows teaching hospitals to establish MMJ programs, but none have yet.
A few additional states have established symbolic laws that recognize the value of MMJ or establish research programs, but do not give patients legal access or protect them from criminal penalties.2
Fifteen states, including Florida, have pending legislation or ballot measures that if passed, would legalize MMJ. Ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington State made recreational use of marijuana legal for adults (both states had previously legalized MMJ).
Federal Law vs. State Law
The United States government classifies Cannabis (the biological name for marijuana) as a Schedule I controlled substance. This class of drugs, which includes Ecstasy, heroin and LSD, are considered the most dangerous—highly addictive, with no accepted medical use.
Because of well-written state laws that protect patients, there are no known cases where the federal government has prosecuted individuals in the 20 legal MMJ states. The Obama administration has stated that it expects Washington and Colorado to establish strict regulations on recreational marijuana, and to make sure enforcement is carried out.
While the federal government cannot force state and local police to enforce its laws, nor can it force states to criminalize federally illegal conduct, it can still affect how states manage enforcement of their MMJ laws.
For example, the federal prohibition against marijuana is making it difficult for Washington State to complete nationwide background checks on people who apply for licenses to run marijuana businesses. The FBI is refusing to conduct the background checks that effectively aid the state in violating the federal law; it has not yet explained the reason(s) behind the refusal.3
Action on Legalizing “Charlotte’s Web” in Florida
A number of parents in Florida are not content to wait until November. Even if the ballot measure passes with 60% of the vote, they say it will take too long for the state to establish MMJ cultivation and sales regulations and make it available to patients.
Parents of children with epilepsy and other seizure disorders are asking Florida lawmakers to take action now, and allow physicians to recommend an oil extract of a specific strain of MMJ, which produces no high but has been found to be effective for treating seizure disorders.
The MMJ strain, known as “Charlotte’s Web,” is high in cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical that has been successful in preventing seizures. It was named after a young girl who suffered hundreds of debilitating seizures and was the first child to be treated with MMJ in Colorado.
Many medical experts agree that the oil should be made available to children in Florida who need it—such as the approximately 125,000 who suffer with Dravet Syndrome, a catastrophic form of epilepsy that begins in childhood. At the time of this writing, legislation is proceeding through the Florida House and Senate that would legalize the liquid drug.2
MMJ Law: Facts vs. Myths
Plenty of accurate information is available about cannabis and MMJ law, but there are also some persistent myths. Let’s take a look at a few:
- Fact: MMJ has been shown to reduce muscle spasms and convulsions, relieve migraine headaches, and help reduce nausea and vomiting in patients receiving chemotherapy and other medical treatments.
- Fact: since 1965, over 20 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses.2
- Myth: marijuana is addictive.
- Fact: a minority of heavy users may develop dependence, but studies show pot is less addictive than nicotine, alcohol and caffeine.5
- Fact: a wide majority of Florida voters—82%—support legalizing MMJ.5
- Fact: state representative Joe Saunders of Orlando filed a bill to legalize MMJ ahead of November’s ballot initiative, saying, “Everybody . . . in the Legislature believes this amendment is going to pass.”6
- Myth: teenagers in states with legal MMJ smoke more marijuana.7
- Fact: there have been no recorded instances of death by marijuana overdose.1
- Myth: most pot smokers are heavy users.
- Fact: only about a fifth of Americans who say they used marijuana in the past year do so on a daily basis.7
This fall, Florida voters may very well make MMJ legal for patients who need it—including thousands of children and adults suffering with chronic diseases and conditions that can be relieved simply by using marijuana.
Are you in the majority of Florida residents who approve of MMJ? Or do you think the potential for harm outweighs the benefits? We welcome your comments!