Recently retired Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott made headlines speaking out in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreation use.
“There are serious drugs. We’re got people dying of heroin overdoses, the opioid crisis, across the country” Scott told Florida Politics. “I’d rather see these dollars and resources, in my opinion, better used to targeting those types of society’s ills as opposed to personal use of marijuana.”
Scott spoke on the topic at a Florida Gulf Coast University class on marijuana on Monday, as reported by The News-Press. Just that such a class exists, Scott says, shows the inevitability of legalization regardless of his individual views.
But Scott said over 30 years of law enforcement, he saw far more criminal incidents stemming from alcohol abuse than excessive marijuana use.
The comments won attention largely because law enforcement stands as perhaps the most vocal opponent of marijuana prohibition around.
The Florida Sheriff’s Association and the Florida Police Chief Association in 2016 both opposed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, a ballot measure ultimately passed by 71 percent of voters. Florida’s sheriffs opposed a similar measure that failed in 2014.
But Scott even then opposed the sheriff’s association position.
On a personal note, Scott said, his mother-in-law is being treated for cancer with drugs the get entered through a port “like a garden hose” into her body.
“I’m not suggesting we’re doing anything wrong in that regard. I respect modern medicine,” he said. “I just don’t know why some folks continue to automatically and patently dismiss marijuana when I’m assuming some of their loved ones’ bodies are just convulsing from the strong toxic chemotherapy treatments that are usually said to be as bad or worse than the disease itself.”
If Scott’s mother-in-law lived in Colorado, she could at least try marijuana as a treatment. She lives in Tennessee so she cannot.
As far as recreational use, Scott noted marijuana remains a popular drug despite being illegal for years. He admits trying it as a youth, despite never smoking a cigarette or cigar.
Scott sees parallels between marijuana laws and alcohol prohibition, which allowed a black market to flourish while people consumed unregulated, home-brewed alcohol.
But while some of these arguments appeared in college papers for decades, one difference in the argument today is the example of other states and nations. Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use, and Scott doesn’t see a downside there. “People still want to go to Aspen and ski,” he said.
Now Canada just voted to legalize marijuana, the largest nation to do so.
There, Scott draws another comparison to prohibition, this an economic one, and wonders if the U.S. just missed a potential economic windfall.
“Why do you think so many of the whiskeys today are Canadian in nature?” he said. “Seagram’s and some of the leading whiskeys. They got ahead of the game of prohibition too.”
Now there’s a budding industry, and with huge growth potential if street use is any indication, and Canada just legitimized any industry growth and expansion while the United States federal government still bans the use of the drug even in states where voters legalized the substance.
Scott just retired as Lee County Sheriff halfway through his fourth term. But don’t expect him to hit the trail on the issue, or to run for office with this as a platform. “I don’t see myself campaigning. That’s one of the reasons I retired,” he said.
Regardless, voters will force government eventually to catch up, he said.
“The reality is, this is where our society is headed right now.”