Don't Legalize Marijuana in Florida, Groups Warn | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


Don't Legalize Marijuana in Florida, Groups Warn

Just weeks ago, a group called Regulate Florida unveiled the “Florida Cannabis Act” — a proposed law that would legalize recreational marijuana — and began collecting petitions to get it on the ballot in November 2016. Now, the opposition has come out to try to shut things down. Antidrug organizations are pointing to a newly released “marijuana legalization impact report” by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area as evidence that pot legalization is deadly and dangerous. The groups are calling on voters not to legalize marijuana in Florida.

The study, which is released annually, points to the troubles legalized weed has wrought in Colorado since voters in that state made it legal in 2012. The study says the average number of marijuana-related traffic deaths has gone up 41 percent in the past year since recreational marijuana shops were allowed to operate throughout Colorado.

“Floridians need to know the consequences of legalization coming out of Colorado before they vote on any type of marijuana legalization in Florida,” says Calvina Fay, executive director of Drug Free America Foundation Inc. and Save Our Society From Drugs, whose office is headquartered in Pinellas County. “The legalization of marijuana has been one of America’s greatest social experiments, and it is a total failure with dire consequences.”

The study claims that Colorado emergency rooms are reporting a 38 percent increase in marijuana-related emergencies in the past year, compared to 2013 and that the Denver Police Department is reporting twice as many DUIs involving marijuana. The study also says that drug-related school suspensions have gone up 40 percent from the 2008-09 school year to the 2013-14 school year.

West Palm Beach attorney Michael Minardi, who heads Regulate Florida, says he’s aware of the study but says it cherry-picks stats to use as a scare tactic. “I have not seen any other studies which support marijuana-related deaths on the roads,” he tells New Times. “And yes, hospital visits are up. I guess it went from zero to two or three.”

Actually, according to the study, the number of marijuana-related hospitalizations went up from 8,727 to 11,439. But that could be viewed as too small a sample size to make any definitive conclusions and that those numbers come from lab tests and from people who walked into the ER and admitted they had smoked pot, which doesn’t necessarily mean their emergency was weed-related. Likewise, the numbers say marijuana-related DUIs went up in Denver from 33 in 2013 to 66 in 2014.

Minardi says his proposed law would protect kids by regulating pot like alcohol. He says children are in much greater danger from prescription drug poisoning. “Look at the number of children poisoned every day,” he says, citing a 2013 study by Boston Children’s Hospital. “Three-hundred kids a day are treated in ERs in the United States for accidental poisoning.”

Antidrug groups looking to stop marijuana legalization are not new in Florida. Last year, United for Care, the group pushing to legalize medical marijuana, met with severe pushback from Drug Free Florida, a group headed by the Florida Sheriffs Association. The group, which was chaired by Carlton Turner, Ronald Reagan’s former drug czar, who once said that marijuana leads to homosexuality and AIDS, led a campaign dedicated to defeating United for Care’s initiative with videos and ads using similar statistics. In the end, United for Care’s initiative fell two percentage points short of passing last November.

Minardi, who handles marijuana cases, says his group is prepared to counter the antiweed groups with stats of its own. Minardi tells New Times that ever since weed was made legal in Colorado, there was been a reduction in traffic fatalities and in opiate use.

“One study of like 30 people said teen use is up,” he says, dismissing the Colorado impact study. “The other six or so studies that are much larger dispute that.”