GOP Legislature should pass sensible medical marijuana bill

Jamie Miller, Ocala Star-Banner

It is now time to stop calling the effort to legalize medical marijuana “Support Amendment 2.” That amendment to Florida’s Constitution failed, barely.

Much has been written about the failure of Amendment 2, the very large personalities that debated and funded both sides, and how the amendment didn’t meet the 60 percent threshold but received more votes than any statewide elected official.

The fact that medical marijuana received broad support puts pressure on the Florida Legislature to act now to legalize medical marijuana.

One might say that Republicans kept this amendment from passing and that a Republican Legislature should stand strong against all things that aren’t conservative — including legalizing medical marijuana.

They would be wrong.

First, after legalizing Charlotte’s Web, a very low THC strain of marijuana that is used mostly for children who fight epilepsy, there was no voter outrage. I venture to say there was not one negative mail piece or political advertisement against any politician who supported the Charlotte’s Web bill. It’s hard to demonize compassion.

So, those who opposed Amendment 2 did not demonize compassion either. They appealed to Republicans to vote against the bill.

The Republican Legislature would be wise to realize that there were four types of Republicans who voted on Amendment 2.

1. Those who oppose any type of legalizing marijuana at any level. These folks probably oppose Charlotte’s Web as well.

2. Those who voted for Amendment 2 because they either support medical marijuana or for the outright legalization of marijuana. Yes, they exist.

3. Those who support medical marijuana but voted no on Amendment 2 because they didn’t believe that it belonged in the state Constitution. I believe that this group is large, and it is growing.

4. Those who support medical marijuana but voted no because they felt the language in the amendment was too broad. This is the group that a Republican Legislature should fear the most.

Why should the Republican Legislature fear the final group the most? If they choose not to pass a real medical marijuana law or if Gov. Rick Scott refuses to sign the law, it is my prediction that lawyer John Morgan, the leader of the Amendment 2 effort, will get the signatures to put this measure on the ballot in 2016 with the exact language that has been approved by the state Supreme Court.

If that happens in a presidential-election year, a year where many more moderate voters show up, it will pass with way more than the 60 percent needed to become law.

Why? More moderate voters from both parties show up to the polls to vote. Group one listed above still opposes the amendment, but its clout and numbers will diminish. Those in group 2 will grow in number.

Republicans in group 3, who don’t necessarily think this measure belongs in the Constitution, will vote yes realizing that is the only way to make it legal because the Legislature refused to act. Voters in group 4 will likely support the amendment because they will realize that if they had voted yes in 2014, the Legislature could have used its rule-making powers to fix most of the things that persuaded them to vote no in the first place.

Finally, I doubt many presidential hopefuls would want this measure on the ballot in 2016.

Medical marijuana definitely has a tailwind, and the Republican Legislature would be wise to live by the No. 1 rule in politics, “Don’t be against what’s already going to happen.”

Jamie Miller is a Sarasota-based political consultant who has been involved with five statewide campaigns. Column courtesy of Context Florida.