The justices of the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments about marijuana yesterday. The question before the court wasn’t whether to legalize pot. That would have been too civilized. It wasn’t whether to legalize medical marijuana. That would have been too compassionate. The question was whether the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana is proper enough to make it to the ballot so voters could decide for themselves whether they want a nanny for a state or whether they’d prefer government got off their back on a matter that shouldn’t be anyone’s business but their own, and maybe their doctor’s.
Pam Bondi, our panicked attorney general, considers the wording of the amendment “deceiving,” because it could allow doctors to prescribe pot not just to people with “debilitating diseases,” but to anyone with a condition a doctor would deem worthy of a little toke.
Bondi must be high on something herself if she thinks the wording is that permissive. If anything, it is too restrictive: you’d more easily get your hands on Oxycontin or Xanax, the sort of legal and too often lethal narcotics doctors prescribe like candy, than you would an ounce of pot under the current wording. But Bondi has her allies on the court, like Chief Justice Ricky Polston, who claimed—in a flash of reasoning worthy of Cheech and Chong—that the amendment would let a doctor prescribe pot to a student stressing over exams. (Memo to the Chief Justice: The drug of choice before exams is Ritalin, and nurses begin dishing it out in elementary school.)
Bondi’s game really has nothing to do with how the amendment is worded. She just wants to prevent the inevitable. Marijuana is finally being legalized in one way or another across the country. Half the states have either decriminalized pot or legalized medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington legalized it outright. Eighty-two percent of Floridians think it should be legalized for medical reasons, for good reason.
Whatever ill effects you can attribute to marijuana, they are false, minor or non-existent compared to the ill effects attributed to alcohol. I’d rather my children smoke pot than get drunk any day. Husbands don’t beat their wives because they take a puff. They beat them because they drink. A little pot would likely have the opposite effect, mellowing out most idiots who act like barbarians when they drink. Some 80,000 deaths a year are attributed to drinking. The number of deaths attributed to pot is closer to zero. No one has ever overdosed on pot, which, in the balance, has more benefits than harms: it alleviates chronic pain, it can relieve nausea and vomiting for AIDS patients or cancer patients going through chemotherapy, it can reduce epileptic seizures and diminish pain for multiple sclerosis patients, and so on. Palliative care doesn’t have to wear a white coat and cost your lifesavings.
Personally I’d make pot mandatory for anyone sentenced to life in either a nursing home or an assisted living facility. And require those facilities to devote a percentage of their square footage to pot cultivation. Talk about bending the Medicare cost curve. But legalizing pot threatens the police and prison-industrial complex. It eliminates the need to use those SWAT teams that police forces routinely and absurdly use to serve warrants on pot heads. (SWAT teams were created to handle hostage situations and mass-murdering maniacs. They’ve instead become the toythings of local—and loco–Strangeloves.) Legalizing pot would cut down on the need for jail cells and maybe even cops, who waste too much of their time and our money arresting poor shmucks enjoying their half-ounce reefers between gropes and kisses in inoffensive backseats with their significant nethers.
Anyone who claims that medical marijuana is the end game is being deceptive. Bondi is right to fear the amendment, which is a step toward outright legalization. But the problem isn’t that groups like Florida’s (and attorney John Morgan’s) United for Care are trying to legalize marijuana. It’s that they’re starting too small, when legalization of recreational marijuana ought to be the objective.
The strategy may not be realistic in Florida, where cops and lawmakers like their pot just where it is—in their bong of disinformation. But arguments against legalization are bankrupt. Pot is not a gateway drug, otherwise the millions of teens who inhaled in the 1980s would have been crack heads by now. Instead, they’re up in Tallahassee running our state. States that have legalized marijuana, medical or more—including California, which legalized medical marijuana 17 years ago—have seen neither a spike in use or misuse nor in crime or pot-induced wrecks. Marijuana, where legal, reduces traffic fatalities, because more young people are apt to smoke pot than drink, and pot behind the wheel is less dangerous than alcohol. But don’t tell that to lawmakers and police chiefs. They prefer their facts stoned.
It is a matter of time before pot is universally legalized. It’s weed’s equivalent of gay marriage: Sanctified by acclamation. The question for Florida is when. The sooner the better, because pot can also be an excellent remedy for nauseating Republican obstructionism.