Marijuana advocates in Florida press for legalization

On Election Night, Colorado and Washington made history. For the first time, a majority of voters in those states decided at the ballot box to legalize marijuana for personal use.
The outcomes are seen as game changers in the decades-long movement to end pot prohibition in this country.

Legalization advocates have long argued that criminalizing cannabis is a failed policy that needs to be replaced with a system of regulation and taxation.

But opponents believe marijuana is a “gateway” drug to harder stuff like heroin and cocaine — a claim that’s frequently challenged.

So where does the movement stand here in Florida, where penalties are harsh? In the Sunshine State, possession of 20 grams or less is a misdemeanor that brings up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. More than that could get you five years behind bars.

On a recent “First Coast Connect,” we spoke with Karen Goldstein, director of Florida’s NORML chapter — The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

She and Tallahassee lawyer Michael Minardi told listeners that NORML will seek to have bills introduced in the state’s next legislative session on the issue.

Said Minardi, “Just showing them the dollars that will flow from the legalization of cannabis — they’re estimating $41 million per year in tax revenue in Colorado and much more in Washington — I think that once they realize that this is a new way we can stimulate the economy and not risk anybody’s harm … they’ll see there’s no benefit to continuing to criminalize and imprison people.

“If we can turn a profit and make revenue in this state that’s the way to get through to these legislators, because money talks.”

If lobbying lawmakers fails, which seems likely, Florida residents could at some point be asked to decide the issue themselves, at least for the approval of medical marijuana in the state.

“We are about 10,000 signatures away from having our ballot initiative reviewed by the state Supreme Court,” said Minardi. “As soon as we get enough signatures, we can move ahead in 2013 or 2014.”

In June, an Angus Reid Public Opinion Poll found 52 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana. It is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.

But remember, ballot amendments require 60 percent voter approval to pass in this state — a high bar. Still, the NORML chapter is pressing ahead.

“The majority of voting Americans believe medical marijuana should be available with a doctor’s recommendation,” said Goldstein.

“The politicians have to notice that, and realize that at some point they will have to stand up and support this.”

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