Medical marijuana (sort of) to become legal in Florida

© 2014 by H.B. Koplowitz

Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature approved a bill Friday to legalize a strain of medical marijuana called Charlotte’s Web, and Republican Gov. Rick Scott said he will sign the bill into law. There’s just one catch: You can’t get high on Charlotte’s Web.

The THC content of the approved cannabis strain cannot be above 0.8 percent, while most psychoactive pot has a THC content of 15 percent or more. Under the law, people can’t smoke Charlotte’s Web either, and the only way they can legally possess it is if they have a rare form of epilepsy or cancer.

Charlotte’s Web has helped some children with a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome control their seizures, and some states, including such liberal bastions as Utah and Alabama, are legalizing low-THC cannabis for medical purposes.

The Miami Herald described some Scott supporters as “surprised” at his support for the bill. But his approval can also be viewed as a political response to Proposition 2, a statewide initiative that will be on the November ballot that would legalize the kind of medical marijuana that does get people high.

With a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, Florida is the first state to test whether “pot power” can help elect a political candidate. The initiative was organized and bankrolled by Democratic operatives and a supporter of Charlie Crist, who is the former Republican governor turned Democrat seeking to regain his seat.

As governor, Crist signed several harsh anti-drug laws, but he now says he supports Prop. 2, which is expected to draw more interest, and Democratic voters, to the polls in the non-presidential election. Scott opposes Prop. 2, but by signing the Charlotte’s Web bill, he and Republicans can say they also have compassion for the truly sick and disabled who could benefit from medical marijuana, so there’s no need to vote for the initiative, or Crist.

In another election-year turnabout, Scott signaled he will sign Florida’s version of the Dream Act, which grants lower in-state college tuition to some foreign-born children of undocumented immigrants. On the last day of the session, the Legislature approved the measure over the objections of those who argued it would reward those here illegally and limit financial aid to legal residents.

Crist also supports the Dream Act, even though in the past, both he and Scott opposed similar measures. Coincidently, Scott and Crist have been wooing the Hispanic vote, which is about 14 percent of the electorate.

The incumbent has been trailing the challenger by 5-10 points in various tracking polls, although a Human Events/Gravis poll in the last week of April found a virtual dead heat. It also found that 60 percent of Florida voters support Prop. 2, which would be a landslide for a political candidate, but the initiative needs 60 percent to pass. And recently, anti-drug and law-enforcement groups, including the Florida Sheriff’s Association, have announced they are mobilizing to oppose the initiative.

The Florida Cannabis Action Network, which was not actively involved in Prop. 2 or the Charlotte’s Web bill, gave a wary thumbs up to the legislative action. “This is not the perfect piece of legislation, but it is an important step forward,” said Florida CAN Executive Director Jodi James. “Florida CAN envision a world where everyone is free to use cannabis without fear. We first must help our neighbors and their family members to understand there is nothing to fear from cannabis.”

Whether a wedge issue such as pot or immigration will be a game-changer in the governor’s race remains to be seen. The election could also be a referendum on Obamacare. Florida is among the states that refused to expand Medicaid or set up a state insurance exchange, and Scott has ridiculed Crist for calling the Affordable Care Act “great.”

Polls taken after the botched rollout of Obamacare found the program was unpopular with most Florida voters, but that was before March 31, when the White House announced it had exceeded its sign-up target. Scott recently went to a senior center in Boca Raton to hear their complaints about the Affordable Care Act, but most of the seniors he talked to praised the program instead.

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