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How Legal Weed Might Wash in Florida

| December 11, 2012

Baby steps. (Patrick Morris)

By Bill Cotterell

Marijuana will soon be legal — depending on your definition of “soon.” But there are some aspects of its legalization that even the most ardent pot advocates have not thought out.

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Voters in Washington and Colorado last month approved ballot initiatives permitting people to puff for pleasure, removing the pretense of a medical need. The federal government has not yet decided whether to intervene and enforce national laws against pot.

But full legalization is coming, eventually. There will be a few holdout states, just as some stayed dry when Congress repealed Prohibition. But young voters, particularly, are more free about what adults do privately, and, if they’re not personally using it, they have pot-smoking friends who haven’t suffered “Reefer Madness.”

Who would have thought 20 or 30 years ago that the U.S. Supreme Court would have on next year’s docket two cases challenging definitions of marriage? Racial integration and women voting once seemed far fetched, and some politicians scored political points fighting them, but public opinion prevailed.

Marijuana is a little different, though, and there’s more to it than just lifting restrictions. Critics call marijuana a “gateway” drug, for one thing, leading to stronger, addictive substances. Whether that is true, legalizing pot would certainly open the door for lawmakers to experiment with harder stuff. Making marijuana legal moves the benchmark.

After pot, why not hashish? Why not various pills that, in a controlled setting, just make you feel good? LSD? Then, why not cocaine?

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After all, as they say of marijuana, people who want to play with their brains and central nervous systems are going to get the stuff. Violent criminal cartels will supply it, burdening police and courts with millions of cases and saddling citizens with felony records. So why not legalize it, regulate it, assure product purity, tax it and use the revenue for education, health care and other good social purposes?

Washington state expects something like $500 million in marijuana tax revenue. But if growers are making big profits off pot, the first thing they’ll do is to hire lobbyists and spread around campaign contributions, to wheedle their way out of as much tax liability as possible. Every industry does that, so claims of high revenue windfalls may be a bong dream.

There’s an article of faith among some marijuana advocates that, once pot is legal, the drug gangs go away. Why do they think that?

Looking back, bootleggers largely vanished when Prohibition ended. But abuse of alcohol — by teen-agers and alcoholics — has not gone away. Smuggling of untaxed liquor and cigarettes is still a racket. Crooks will find ways of selling cheaper, untaxed, more-potent marijuana, as they do today. And, of course, they’ll continue selling whatever remains illegal.

A likely consequence of marijuana legalization will be an increase in impaired driving. It’s pretty easy to spot a drunk, and DUI laws set a presumption of impairment — the familiar .08 blood-alcohol level in Florida.

So the states will have to develop a reliable and reasonable threshold of “unsafe” marijuana consumption. The aforementioned lobbyists will have full-employment legislative sessions as legislators work on that.

I’ve known users who insist that pot sharpens their senses or, at worst, puts them in a mellow mood and does not distort time and space perceptions for a motorist. Yeah, well, a lot of social drinkers claim a couple belts makes them better drivers, too.

And what of employment law? The state and many private companies have “drug-free workplace” policies, requiring job applicants, and sometimes employees, to pee in a cup. Could they hold it against you, if you smoked a legal joint four or five days ago, or would pot be treated like alcohol? Lots of companies don’t hire cigarette smokers, to hold down insurance costs, so would the same rule apply to a weekend pot user?

Speaking of tobacco, what about product liability? You can’t market a dish towel in this country without being sued by someone claiming it caused a dislocated duodenum. Do you really think pot billionaires will escape the trial bar’s notice? Will Congress or state legislators provide legal protections for this budding industry?

So if you’re planning to go into the marijuana business, as soon as it’s legalized, you might want to ask Joe Camel what happens a few years down the road.

Bill Cotterell is a retired Capitol reporter who worked for United Press International and the Tallahassee Democrat. reach him by email here.

14 Responses for “How Legal Weed Might Wash in Florida”

  1. Scott says:

    Your entire argument is nothing more than a slippery slope repackaged with the intro phrase “nobody has thought of this yet”. This has been debated at length and the impact is already being measured. States that have legalized for medical purposes have seen reductions in suicide levels, traffic fatalities, teenage drug use etc. This can be backed up with peer reviewed research. The most ridiculous part of your argument is when you look back to the prohibition of alcohol and make this observation: “But abuse of alcohol — by teen-agers and alcoholics — has not gone away.” The fact remains that is easier for kids to get marijuana than it is for them to get alcohol and cigarettes. They are turning to marijuana because it is the least regulated inebriant available to them. You then descend into a series of observations that boil down to “crime still exists so we should just throw our hands up in the air and call it a day”. The fact is Colorado has not burned to the ground yet and neither has Washington or Portugal.

    There are studies to discount everything you have said. A number of people with chronic pain, mental disorders, inflammatory conditions, HIV, (etc.) rely on this to live productive lives. It’s you that is standing in the way of progress and productivity.

  2. Diego Miller says:

    We could continue to arrest 800,000 people a year for possession. I think the police would agree they have more pressing matters. Of course its about the DEA budget. If you remove Marijuana from the equation, their cost to arrest ratio would be cause for concern. It’s always all about the money. All the hype and hysteria about pot is far worse than the drug.

  3. glad fly says:

    all the paranoia will one day go up in smoke. good grief. think i’ll go by the publix liquor store,buy a fifth of scotch and terrorize the highways.

  4. Vic says:

    The comparisons of marijuana to other narcotics like cocaine or LSD is pretty ludicrous. I don’t know a single person who is capable of manufacturing either for their own personal consumption. However, I do know dozens of gardeners who can privately grown their plants be it vegetables, flowers, or cannabis. If you’re not following, I’m saying that marijuana is a “drug” that can easily be produced by individuals for personal use therefore possibly making the ultra-violent almost jihadist-style cartels just across the border obsolete in the weed industry. Since marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance making it available legally would force the cartels to take a massive profit hit, in turn actually befitting law enforcement agencies that have so far made no impact on the cartel profits or operations. Its just weed people.. Who do you know that died from smoking weed? If we need to reconsider legal narcotics why arent we talking about oxycodone or hydromorphine or opana? All of which currently flood our streets and are almost as common and readily available as marijuana.

  5. Simon says:

    I have heard more persuasive arguments from my four year old as to why she should stay up later at night, than I read in this ‘article’. It is easy to make claims in the name of public safety. It is apparently much harder to back up those claims with evidence and fact.

    Marijuana use has been legalized in several states for a few years now. Certainly long enough to establish patterns in crime statistics and abuse issues. Have residents in California or Colorado been frightened by marijuana cartel violence? Have teens in Arizona or Oregon been admitted into rehabs in droves? Have motorists in Michigan and Delaware been terrorized by pot-hazed drivers crashing all around them? Have doctors in Montana or Vermont reported a sharp increase in marijuana related illnesses or injuries?


    In fact, NONE of the ‘problems’ you claim may happen have actually happened in the states that currently allow marijuana. Your ‘arguments’ and ‘reasons’ against legalizing marijuana are simply antiquated notions brought on by propaganda fear-mongers in a bygone era.

    If you are going to ‘report’ on an issue, please take the time to research it. And more importantly, please respect our intellects by forming a real argument based on the truth.

  6. Don Smith says:

    How do you think legal Marijuana in other states will affect Florida’s tourism especially during Spring Break? Are Florida’s business willing to watch their customers go to Colorado and other states to keep Marijuana illegal?

  7. The Geode says:

    Who cares? Anybody who wants to smoke weed will find it more accessible than cigarettes. At least the stores will check ID. Besides, those who WANTS to smoke it is ALREADY smoking it. Legalizing it will only limit “street sales” but I seriously doubt it will be a financial savior for the economy.

  8. Willie Weed says:

    Lets BAN alcohol and legalize pot. That should calm down all the hot heads in this county. I can see I-95 traffic now….SLOWWwwwwww !!!!!! Can I start up a Flagler County Pot farm ? We can have a town meeting and invite Cheech & Chong to give a pep speech. We can open up delivery centers in the industrial park and ship out to all the states where its legal. Put hundreds back to work. Restaurants would be pack all day and night….Win Win for Palm Coast !!!

  9. Deep South says:

    We Floridians should legalize marijuana. Their are more seniors living in Florida than any other state that could probably use it for medical purposes.

  10. Saber says:

    Enough with the ignorance of incarcerating half of the inmate population of US prisons. Read and learn from Portugal decriminalization of all drugs 11 years ago. It only goes to prove the united states DEA and law enforcement use drugs as an excuse for increasing their government funding and keeping their jobs.
    Wake up America and stop this insanity !

  11. Knowledgeispower says:

    They must be trying real hard to counter the pro pot movement… This exact article was published in another column that I read a few hours ago… Just Google Legalization of Marijuana and you will find it.
    Furthermore, I use to be a police officer. I actually put people in jail for weed, and I cannot tell you enough how much I wish I could take it back now. Marijuana is a much better choice than our other legal pleasure drugs. I just wish I would have tried it sooner, because once you really try it… You just see the world in a much better way.

  12. CHECK PLEASE says:

    I’m sure the cops would love to have this legalized.
    A waste of time to investigate and prosecute someone smoking a joint. (my opinion)
    They would be able to partake after work and spend their on-duty time looking for real criminals and drug addicts.

  13. Reudly says:

    Pot is a gateway drug because you have to associate with the same type of people who sell hard drugs to get it. If pot is taken out of that environment it would no longer be a gateway to other things.

  14. I held a Medical card in Ca. for 3yrs. & it helped with my medical issues. I have an artificial hip. And other things like mental issues. That the Medicine allowed me to be free from. It also allows a person to, not have to expose themselves to a criminal element, & even allows themselves to grow a plant at home to save money, on their medicine! And I have this exp. and it worked so well. And I pray that Florida follows suite in progress.

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