A Modest Proposal for Medical Marijuana Opponents in Florida

Attorney John Morgan’s United for Care is readying another campaign to pass a Constitutional Amendment in Florida that would provide for the therapeutic use of cannabis under doctors’ supervision. (The organization’s previous attempt in 2014 was approved by about 58 percent of voters—a higher percentage than any candidate on the ballot including Governor Rick Scott—but failed to reach the 60 percent threshold required to pass this kind of ballot initiative.)

Medical-Cannabis1While the prospects for success look good in a presidential election year, the opposition is gearing up, too. A coalition of religious and law enforcement organizations including the Florida Sheriff’s Association is trotting out the familiar arguments here. (It’s worth noting that opposition to legalizing cannabis is far from universal in the law enforcement community. A number of progressive law enforcement officials believe that cannabis prohibition is considerably more harmful and dangerous than the plant itself.)

While many point out that law enforcement agencies in Florida have a vested interest in continuing prohibition—they generate millions of dollars for themselves from civil forfeiture proceedings, for example—I’m willing to stipulate that their arguments against liberalizing cannabis laws are made in good faith. But if public health and safety are genuinely what they’re concerned with, I’d like to make a modest proposal that might clarify the issues surrounding cannabis and enhance the credibility of the arguments they’re making.

Simply put, I wonder if the Sheriff’s Association would be willing to broaden the scope of its concern to include all of the substances that individuals use to self-medicate:

  • Cannabis
  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Dietary supplements
  • Over the counter medications

To claim, as the coalition’s website does, that cannabis “has a high potential for abuse with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence” is, at best, an incomplete telling of the story. If the problem is that cannabis is dangerous then it’s worth asking: Compared to what?

It seems that we, as a society, have long ago determined that we’re willing to balance the perceived benefits of using any of these substances against some hypothetical state of absolute safety. It shouldn’t be necessary, then, to demonstrate that cannabis is perfectly safe under any and all circumstances. After all, we couldn’t make that claim for aspirin and we certainly couldn’t make it for bourbon.

So, here’s my proposal. Let’s establish an objective set of safety standards and then apply them to all of the items on our list. Then, the Sheriff’s Association or any of the other organizations in the anti-cannabis coalition can make their policy prescriptions in a rational and objective context.

Here’s what doesn’t make sense: Insisting that one item on the list meet standards that we’re not willing to apply to other items that are objectively more dangerous. (If anyone wants to make the case that cannabis is more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol, then I’m happy to let them do so… but I’m guessing that any sort of supporting data would be difficult to produce.)

If it’s genuinely important to prosecute cannabis users in order to protect them from themselves, then don’t we owe the same level of protection to individuals who choose to self-medicate in other ways? But if we refuse to do that—if it seems like an irrational overreach to do so—then maybe it’s time to admit that prosecuting cannabis users never really made much sense in the first place.

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