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Florida & Medical marijuana - Trick or Treat!

First, happy Halloween to those of you who read our Firm's blog. I have written before in support of legalizing marijuana, for medical and recreational purposes, but with the big vote looming next week, I wanted to revisit the topic. This article was born as an "op-ed" piece that was not published for a variety of reasons, none of which apply to my Firm's blog.

As a criminal defense attorney, a fair share of my income is dependent on representing people accused of possessing drugs, including marijuana. And although it will negatively impact my financial bottom line, because it is absolutely the correct financial and legal move, I intend to vote in favor of Amendment 2 on November 4, 2014. I do not hesitate to vote this way because my conscience leaves me no other choice. The Statewide debate is well served by John Morgan and People United for Medical marijuana and I do not presume to offer any new or more articulate insights. What I can add is a personal, "boots on the ground" view on this issue and how it might impact our society.

As a disclaimer, I cannot think of any reason to demonize or criminalize, much less ban the medicinal use of marijuana side from pure "reefer madness" hysteria or because of direct financial conflicts of interest. Consider the classic argument: Alcohol is legal, marijuana is not. But if you compare marijuana to alcohol, in any category except legality, you would be hard-pressed to find a single arena in which alcohol is not clearly either worse for your or otherwise lacking in merit. Other than counteracting antifreeze, alcohol's medicinal qualities pale in comparison. The overall damage to our society caused by alcohol-related accidents and crimes vastly exceeds any ills attributed to marijuana. The revenue from medical marijuana will clearly be a net positive and is much needed at a time when we have underfunded public services. So I certainly approach this issue with a strong bias.

I will spare my readers a history lesson, but suffice it to say that many drugs were openly sold for decades in this country. At one point, Coca-Cola had more than just caffeine in it for a "buzz." My personal opinion is that our great nation's history of drug enforcement is characterized by failure, over-reaction, misunderstanding and a catering to financial interests not the best interests of society. I suspect I am not alone in this view. I think many people are "closet" supports of marijuana reform - they may not want to admit it openly, but they recognize marijuana is not the "devil weed" and we are operating under an out-dated (and possibly corrupted) legal framework.

Following the money in the Florida "battle" over medical marijuana, it is clear how special interests are aligning. Big money (from big pharma) opposes the amendment; big money (thank you Mr. Morgan) supports the amendment. Politicians are hiding in the middle or aligning with financial interests, but it seems clear to me any politic deadlock is the result of heavy lobbying and not earnest "moral conflict."

And when I go to work every day in the local criminal justice system, I am further convinced we need to stop the political procrastination fueled by well-funded industrial interests and recognize for prompt decisive action. If Neil Young was coming of age in Florida, his song would be "the pill and the damage done." Prescription drug abuse has decimated whole generations of Floridians - the same cannot be said of marijuana. The energy and money going into enforcing the marijuana laws would be better served by expending treatment services for substance abuse issues.

One of my partners returned from a neighboring county where people where routinely getting jail and up to a year of probation for small amounts of marijuana. Considering jailing a person costs upwards of eight dollars ($80) a day and usually disrupts their entire life (leading to an increase in demand for social services and other ancillary negative externalities), do we want to throw our limited tax money into a cell. Florida law requires a person convicted of possession of even a small amount of marijuana to lose their drivers license for two (2) years. Why? Who knows. Certain there is not a "rational relationship" between any possession case and the ability to operate a motor vehicle. Consider a first time DUI charge only requires six (6) months of drivers license suspension! So, if you lose your license how do you work? The answer is you probably do not! Or you drive anyway and risk another arrest. Hardly seems like smart policy nor effective use of our justice system. But it is a reality I witness every day (never in my own clients of course).

Now, I have not really drawn a distinction between recreational use and the medical use proposed under Florida's amendment. Nor have I discussed the legal implications of using a constitutional amendment to enact this type of reform. The constitutional amendment procedure and that debate I leave to law professors as I am too busy in the trenches (I kid I kid - I love my law school professors). I do think the medical distinction warrants discussion and consideration. The Florida Supreme Court already reviewed the proposed Amendment and issued a "clarifying" opinion - it will not be a free for all. Doctors will not be stuffing joints into patient's pockets as free samples (unlike the free samples pharmaceutical representatives doll out) and this amendment will not make all "drug dealers" into compassionate caregivers. The television commercials and talking points that suggest this are playing on your fears (hence the Halloween title to this blog entry).

Ultimately, I believe the Government should not be in the business of practicing medicine. If a doctor believes medical marijuana can treat a genuine condition which fits into the legal definitions, then the doctor and patient should be able to make that decision together. Already, Florida proposes, in my opinion, too much oversight of doctors and their ability to treat patients, but that is a topic for another. I believe the checks and balances proposed combined with doctors own personal and medical ethics (and their healthy paranoia over lawsuits and government sanctions) will be sufficient, if not overly restrictive.

Florida's medical marijuana amendment represents a step in the right direction. It represents a step towards greater patient rights, a step towards more State revenue (as opposed to expenditure on drug enforcement efforts) and a step towards a more reasonable and rational drug policy that reflects society's actual views and moral values. I urge you to vote in favor of medical marijuana this November.

Unless (until) the laws change, if you are accused of a marijuana-related crime in central Florida, please do not hesitate to contact our office to learn how we can help you defend yourself and avoid many of the ridiculous penalties you could face. Our office has been aggressively defending clients accused of all types of crimes with over 120 combined years of experience and we would love the chance to help you or someone you love.

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