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Florida Sheriffs Association opposes Jeff Brandes medical pot bill

What a difference a week makes.

Last week Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri made headlines when he issued tentative support for state Sen. Jeff Brandes legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in Florida. That was noteworthy, as the sheriff had been a leading critic of Amendment 2, the constitutional amendment to legalize medical pot that received nearly 58 percent support from the Florida electorate last November, just shy of the 60 percent required for passage.

But Tuesday Gualtieri shared co-billing with St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar, the Florida Sheriffs Association president, at a news conference in Tallahassee announcing that the FSA opposes the Brandes bill.

“There’s a lot of things in that bill that resemble the problems with the constitutional amendment,” Gualtieri said. Those problems he said included the fact that the legislation would allow sufferers of muscle spasms to legally use pot.  He also said there was a lot of “loose language” in the bill that would allow “de facto recreational use that allows it in smokable form.”

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states across the country. All but one of those states allows for that marijuana to be consumed by smoking it (The exception is New York state).

The FSA released what it is calling its “core legislative principles” Tuesday — nine specific issues they are looking for in any future legislation that presumably would win their seal of approval. Their first requirement is that any medical marijuana must not be smoked. “You don’t smoke medicine,” the Pinellas Sheriff told reporters in person in Tallahassee and those listening across the state via conference call. “You can ingest it. You can absorb it. That gets the necessary relief that people need from THC,” alluding to oils and/or vapors.

The sheriffs vote was 38-2 against the Brandes bill.

“This legislation is meant to be a start to the conversation on medicinal marijuana, and I look forward to working with the sheriffs on their concerns,” Brandes said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. “I have always been committed to working with our law enforcement community to ensure that we carefully review this important public policy. As we continue to move this bill forward, I am confident that we will reach a compromise that balances the needs of public safety with the needs of Florida patients.”

Ben Pollara, executive director with United for Care, the group that advocated for Amendment 2 last year and is already working on getting the measure back on the 2016 ballot, was disappointed but still optimistic upon hearing about the vote. “Looking at it through the lens where the sheriffs have landed on this in the past, I think it’s a hugely positive development and shows that they’re not going to be in a position of just lockstep opposition that they were during the campaign,” he said.

“Nobody sits around on a Saturday night with the strobe lights going and the party music going on and says, ‘let’s rub this oil on my wrist.’ They want to smoke it. It has social value to it,” Gualtieri said, repeating his argument of the past year about how both Amendment 2 and the Brandes bill invite recreational  use. “They’ll say that it’s the easiest way to absorb it, and the fastest way to absorb it. Well, there are other ways.”

Not nearly so rapidly, though. A study conducted by the New York State Psychiatric Institute released in 2013 found that Marinol acts considerably slower, taking an average of an hour to an hour-and-a-half to reach its peak. Conversely, the full effects of smoking marijuana were experienced within 15 minutes.

Last week Gualtieri said that he supported Brandes’ proposal, saying the wording of the bill made all the difference. He wasn’t asked about that reversal during the news conference. Reporters listening in via a conference call were not allowed to ask questions over the phone.

Both sheriffs sounded somewhat defensive in announcing their opposition, stressing that there were components of the Brandes bill that they did like, such as the fact that local jurisdictions could reject the law. Shoar insisted that “no sheriff who would stand in the way of trying to help somebody ease their burden.”

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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