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Before House panel, critics raises alarm over legalizing ‘adult use’ of marijuana

There are multiple efforts to put the issue to voters in 2020.

Don’t legalize it. That was the message to Floridians during testimony to a House panel Tuesday regarding the adult use of marijuana.

There are two viable initiatives aimed at placing a state constitutional amendment to legalize pot on the 2020 ballot and in the hands of voters.

But Bertha K. Madras, professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, warned the House Health & Human Services Committee that legalization would have negative effects.

“I am opposed to legalization for obvious reasons,” Madras said. “Marijuana is not benign. It is not safe. It is addictive. It is psychotomimetic. It interferes with learning and memory.”

Madras paid particular focus to studies in recent years showing levels of THC rising in marijuana. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient that causes marijuana’s “high.”

As an NPR report detailed: “One study of pot products seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found the potency increased from about 4 percent THC in 1995 to about 12 percent in 2014. By 2017, another study showed, the potency of illicit drug samples had gone up to 17.1 percent THC.”

On that rise, Madras remarked, “This has implications for driving, for addiction, for toxicity and for psychosis.”

Florida already has legalized medical marijuana, the benefits of which Madras also pushed back on. But several other states — such as Colorado, California and Vermont — have gone further in legalizing recreational use of the drug.

A report from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice analyzing legalization in that state found a mixed bag. On the positive or neutral side, marijuana arrests dropped over that five-year period, though were not eliminated. Possessing large amounts of the drug for suspected trafficking remains illegal in that state.

And there did not appear to be a spike in youth use of the drug, or in instances of individuals driving while impaired.

But the marijuana black market actually grew following legalization, with organized crime cases tripling. Hospitalization rates for marijuana users also increased.

Whether those effects would repeat in Florida is unclear, says Madras, though she continued to warn against potential legalization: “We cannot fully predict the consequences of marijuana legalization in Florida,” she argued.

“I also project that it will take years, and one or two generations, to fully comprehend the consequences. It took our nation more than 20 years to raise alarm bells about the opioid issue.”

Madras was the only witness to appear before the panel Tuesday. There was no time allotted for a proponent of legalization.

Still, while Madras vehemently opposed legalization, she did make some concessions regarding the negative effects of the drug.

“I agree that not all users respond to the drug in the same way, and not all studies agree on the adverse consequences or potential benefits of marijuana,” Madras said, adding comments later on, regarding overdose potential.

“Marijuana is very unlikely to cause an overdose death. If it does, it’s going to be cardiac, blood pressure, strokes. And those are low rates.”

Amendments are being put forward by Sensible Florida and Make it Legal Florida to have voters settle the issue. To be successful, 60 percent would need to approve a constitutional amendment in November 2020.

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to

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