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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Voters will get their say on medical marijuana

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The argument against medical marijuana always seemed strained to me. Opponents would deny access to the weed for someone battling serious pain from a disease like cancer because they might get hooked on harder drugs? That was the argument made Monday by Gov. Rick Scott after the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that an amendment to legalize medical marijuana can go on the ballot in November.

“I have a great deal of empathy for people battling difficult diseases and I understand arguments in favor of this initiative,” Scott said in a written statement.

“But having seen the terrible effects of alcohol and drug abuse first-hand, I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path and I would personally vote against it. No matter my personal beliefs, however, a ballot initiative would be up to the voters to decide.”

With all respect to the governor, I have news: A lot of Floridians are already hooked on drugs like morphine and OxyContin (which is synthesized heroin). That doesn’t carry the stigma of marijuana, though, because those drugs were created by giant pharmaceutical companies with profits in the billions. People tend to think anyone turning to marijuana must be a direct descendant of Cheech and Chong.

Attorney General Pam Bondi tried to spike the amendment by arguing the ballot language was too broad and would lead to abuse, but the issue we’re being asked to decide seems simple to me.

The justices thought so too, noting that approval would “allow a restricted use of marijuana for certain debilitating medical conditions.”

And now, like the governor said, the people get to decide if this is what they want.

That’s how it should be.

While polls have shown strong support for the measure, it still needs 60 percent of the vote to become law. This also has ramifications far beyond a single amendment. Republicans are probably right when they say this issue will bring out younger and liberal voters more likely to support Charlie Crist in the governor’s race against Scott.

A new poll shows Crist’s once-substantial lead has shrunk to two points. A larger turnout probably wouldn’t hurt him.

And, of course, we can’t overlook that this amendment was backed strongly by attorney John Morgan, he of the relentless “For The People” television blitz. Morgan is Crist’s biggest fan.

However, opponents have time to plant the seed – so to speak – that our idyllic state will turn into Amsterdam south if this passes.

They can shout that this all just a vast liberal conspiracy to allow potheads to puff away on street corners in every village, town and city in Florida. Use marijuana for medicinal purposes and soon decent folk won’t even be walk to the grocery without getting high from all the smoke.

That won’t happen, by the way, but nothing sells better in an election year than a good scare story.

Voters in this state are perfectly capable of distinguishing the difference between hyperbole and pain relief. Now, thanks to the supreme court, they have the chance to do just that.

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