A proposed constitutional amendment to legalize the medical use of marijuana is headed to the courts on the way, perhaps, to coming to the ballot in November 2014.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me first confess here that I never inhaled.
The closest I have ever come to consuming marijuana in any form (at least to my knowledge) was on those evenings in my freshmen dormitory when it was difficult to avoid a contact high walking from my room to the bathroom.
In short, I have no interest in, and little comfort with, “recreational” drug use.
On the other hand, I can offer, with some conviction, a pretty compelling case for rethinking how we are dealing with such recreational use. We learned from Prohibition that classifying recreational drugs (in that case, alcohol) as illegal substances tends to be more a boon to organized crime and the undertaker (not necessarily in that order) than to public health.
Still, the thought of any number of deadly dangerous “recreational” drugs (Heroin? Ecstasy? Molly?) being sold freely from 21st century “drug” stores doesn’t exactly give me much comfort, either.
It’s difficult to know what the best public policy is when it comes to substances that alter our consciousness and may, in fact, be addictive.
One recreational drug, marijuana, seems to be trending to legalization. Part of the reason, I think, is that, after years of discussions about the direct approach (legalization), cannabis advocates have latched on to a two-step process. First, legalize the medical use of marijuana. We are a compassionate people. Why would we deprive someone of the benefits of a particular therapy just because it also happens to be a popular recreational drug?
As such uses become more familiar and more widely accepted, the second step, total legalization (with regulation, like tobacco or alcohol), seems a very short step to take.
The strategy seems to be working. The states of Colorado and Washington, both of which have allowed the medical use of marijuana for over a decade, legalized recreational marijuana in November 2012. In doing so, they became the first states to end marijuana prohibition. More generally, with 20 states and the District of Columbia now allowing medical marijuana, the tide seems to be turning. For the first time since Gallup started asking the question, a majority of Americans now appear to support the full legalization of marijuana. Not just for medical use, but complete legalization.
It is in this context that Floridians may confront the question of legalizing medical marijuana. But there’s more to the story . . .