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Mitch Perry Report for 1.27.15 — The politics of pot returns to Florida

The Tampa Bay Times alienated some of it readership and certainly surprised many others last fall when it editorialized against Amendment Two. That was the medical marijuana initiative being proposed in Florida some 18 years after California became the first state in the nation to legalize the herb for medicinal purposes. The editorial called the substance of the amendment “problematic,” and said it would be better for the Legislature to pass such a law.

The problem with that theory was that the Legislature had never ever come close to supporting such a proposal in the past, and the medical pot bill that was approved in 2014, the so-called “Charlotte’s Web” initiative, was criticized by pro-medical marijuana advocates as a much weaker remedy helping significantly fewer people who suffer from ailments like cancer, AIDS and ALS. There was also great cynicism attached to the legislation, considering that some GOP lawmakers admitted that the bill was intended ini part to give voters a reason to discount Amendment Two at the polls.

But that didn’t work. Yes, the initiative “failed” because it received only 57.6 percent of the vote (far greater than the percentage of voters that Rick Scott in the election, for what that’s worth). However, due to that same Legislature passing a bill a few years earlier making any citizen-led constitutional amendment have to reach the much higher threshold of 60 percent for passage, and Florida became the first state in the nation to reject such a  measure at the polls.

But yesterday state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) became that Republican legislator to step forward, announcing his proposal that would allow sick Floridians the opportunity to have access to “medical-grade” pot.

The senator says he knows it’s not a slam dunk at all in the conservative GOP-controlled Legislature, and it definitely is not. But there’s motivation among Florida Republicans to get a law passed in 2015 so John Morgan doesn’t bring it back to the November ballot in 2016 – and that’s the fact that a revived constitutional amendment  will drive younger, and quite possibly more liberal-minded voters to the polls next year.

Florida will undoubtedly be a major prize in the battle to get 270 electoral votes in November of 2016. It’s an electoral fact that more Democrats in Florida come out to vote in presidential election years, making it a more challenging situation for Republicans who will be on the ballot in 2016, none more important than the nominee for president. And though it’s impossible to contemplate who that might be at this early juncture, it’s not beyond the realm to imagine it being Jeb Bush.

You think Jeb will want to run with medical marijuana on the ballot? Or any Republican? Not likely.

One could ask why Brandes didn’t bring this up last year. But we can’t do anything about the past. The fact is, medical marijuana will be coming to the Sunshine State, something that Mel Sembler may not want to acknowledge, but is fairly evident based on what happened last November. A plan to get it through the Legislature this year rather than have another full-fledged campaign next year is something that is probably more palatable to the powers that be in GOP world in Florida.

In other news…

As the same time that Jeff Brandes was unveiling his proposal on medical pot, the St. Petersburg-based state Ssenator was addressing hundreds of people involved with public safety in Florida hearing about the issue of drugged driving. Brandes said there’s not much the Legislature can do in the short term, so the public should lobby their city council or county commission to make Uber and Lyft more accessible.

The fact is there are more people than ever driving while high, either on pot on prescription drugs. That conference featured several speakers who are dealing with that issue in Florida and across the country.

And Kevin Beckner, who has been a force in changing the culture on gay rights in Hillsborough County, will be honored next month by Equality Florida for his efforts.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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