Miami Beach voters became the first in Florida to call for the decriminalization of marijuana for medical use in a Tuesday vote that gives a glimpse of statewide support for the issue. The 64-36 percent approval jibed with state and national polls that show medical-marijuana support approaching 60 percent or more. The non-binding straw poll — calling on the city to ask the state and federal governments to allow medical cannabis — was so popular that it garnered about 1,000 more votes than the leading candidate for mayor, Philip Levine.
The group People United for Medical Marijuana, which is backing a proposed constitutional amendment to make Florida the 20th pot-decriminalization state, hopes Tuesday’s Miami Beach vote reflects state sentiment. “It speaks pretty positively to our chances next November,” said Benjamin Pollara, treasurer of the Orlando-based group. “This was a very low turnout election in Miami Beach,” he said, “it’s a relatively old electorate, and yet it still got close to 65 percent of the vote.”
But opponents say the small 25 percent turnout election in the Democratic-leaning city undercuts the importance of the 6,683 favorable straw-poll votes. They also draw a distinction between the 24-word nonbinding referendum and the two-page statewide initiative. “Florida’s initiative, like efforts in other states, is about the legalization of marijuana cultivation, marketing, sales, distribution, and use,” Calvina Fay, executive director of the Clearwater-based Drug Free America Foundation, said in a written statement.
“It is about creating a ‘Big Marijuana’ industry like the ‘Big Tobacco’ industry,” Fay wrote. “Once voters understand this, they are less likely to support such a dangerous concept.” The Florida amendment’s language limits marijuana to medical purposes as determined by a licensed Florida physician, but Fay’s group says the restriction is a distinction without a difference because pot could be prescribed for the most-basic of ailments. Also, medical marijuana has been a precursor to outright legalization in places like Maine.
Maine’s largest city, Portland, became the first East Coast city on Tuesday to legalize personal marijuana possession by adults. Three Michigan cities on the same day decriminalized pot possession, with Lansing removing all criminal and civil penalties in the same way as Portland. Now, cities in 14 states have decriminalized it. Also on Tuesday, Colorado voters approved a 25 percent tax on marijuana sales. That state had legalized personal marijuana use last year.
Nationwide, a recent Gallup poll found support for pure legalization has reached an all-time high, 58 percent. “The movement to legalize marijuana mirrors the relatively recent success of the movement to legalize gay marriage, which voters have also approved now in 14 states,” according to a Gallup analysis.
Two polls taken by Florida’s medical-marijuana group indicated that voters here still oppose outright legalization of marijuana. But the back-to-back polls showed voters backed medical marijuana use by 78 percent and 71 percent. A more-recent survey taken by Public Policy Polling indicated 62 percent of Florida voters would support it.
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