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Florida House hears ‘other side’ of pot

Lawmakers last week heard about the potential downfalls of marijuana.

Florida legislators continue to get an earful from supporters of dropping the state’s ban on smokable medical marijuana.

But on Wednesday, House members heard about the perils of pot from a former New York Times reporter who’s written a provocative new book, “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence.”

Alex Berenson, whose recently released missive has set the world of weed on fire, sat down with House Rules Chairman Chris Sprowls in the first of the House’s “Tally Talks” this year.

Berenson based his book on research detailing dangers of pot, especially for teenagers, and includes case studies illustrating data.

The father of two young children accused the for-profit marijuana industry and non-profit advocacy groups of doing an “incredible job” of “misleading people about the science.”

Berenson relies on studies that show a connection between marijuana use and disorders such as schizophrenia, which can lead to violence. And, he said, today’s pot is much stronger than it was decades ago, with euphoria-inducing THC levels around 20 percent, compared to 1 percent in the 1970s.

Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican slated to take over as House speaker in 2022, has young children of his own. He asked Berenson what he’d tell kids about getting high.

“Please don’t use it,” Berenson said. “It’s a dangerous drug. … It’s not medicine.”

When asked why the House invited Berenson, whom critics have branded as a modern-day “reefer madness” zealot, Sprowls said he wanted “to inject in the conversation the other side of the discussion.”

“We’re inundated here in the Legislature with really one side of the story. And I think as we make these kinds of choices, we have to realize that these choices have real implications for real people, and we should be considering every facet of that argument,” Sprowls told The News Service of Florida after the talk.

Berenson has a background as an investigative reporter, and his book is “heavy on the studies” and on vignettes that “put exclamations on the studies he cites,” Sprowls said.

“I think it’s important for us to take those into consideration now, before we move forward and potentially make errors that we can’t undo,” he said.

The Tally Talk came as the House and Senate are ironing out differences in legislation to do away with the state’s ban on smokable medical marijuana, at the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis. If lawmakers don’t act, the Governor has threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court ruling that found the smoking ban ran afoul of a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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