Broward News

BSO's Scott Israel Is One of Just Four Florida Sheriffs Not Campaigning Against Medical Weed

United for Care, a pro-medical marijuana lobby backed by attorney John Morgan, faces its biggest opponent: Florida's cops. In June, members of the newly formed Don't Let Florida Go to Pot coalition assembled in Tallahassee to educate voters on the dangers of marijuana and discourage voters from passing Amendment 2, which will be on the ballot this November. Although the group has more than 100 partners, its biggest advocate is the Florida Sheriff's Association.

However, support from that group is not unanimous — only 63 of Florida's 67 sheriffs have jumped aboard the Reefer Madness train. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel is one of the outliers who has resisted joining. His stance is notable not only because he runs the biggest police agency in Florida but because BSO is the largest sheriff's department in the country.

The cops' coalition claims that if medical marijuana is legalized, crime will be higher around dispensaries. Even though medical marijuana has been legalized in more than 20 states, it remains illegal under federal law, so drug-related businesses can't use federally insured banks. Thus, they deal in large amounts of cash and are often targets of armed robbery.

A second point of contention is that there's no language in the proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent teenagers from obtaining marijuana prescriptions without consent of a parent. "There is a loophole big enough to float a battleship through that will allow anyone in Florida to obtain pot for any reason — making it nearly impossible for law enforcement to hold dealers and pot shop doctors accountable," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news release.

Does Israel (who, notably, also opposed the association's defense of Stand Your Ground) disagree with these claims? Asked directly, he wouldn't disclose his personal view on marijuana and said sheriffs weren't elected to affect the legislative process.

"I'm a strong leader who trusts the voters and the people," the Democrat says. "I think that if you feel secure in your opinion and the facts go your way, you have to be able to stand on an island."

The Florida Sheriff's Association explains that it's unclear which other sheriffs oppose Don't Let Florida Go to Pot. When they counted 63 sheriffs in favor, "they took a hand vote and didn't document it," says Nanette Schimpf, a spokeswoman. "Maybe [the other three sheriffs] didn't vote because they weren't there."

"We don't presume to speak for why others are opposed," says Ben Pollara, United for Care's director. "We can only say that we are in this for the patients who would benefit greatly from having medical marijuana as a treatment option."

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.