Not long ago, the idea of Florida legalizing marijuana for medical use seemed a pipe dream. Now it’s being backed by big bucks and city slickers in suits, and could ride a wave of popularity all the way to the 2014 ballot.
Like same-sex marriage, this subject has enjoyed a recent rise in support nationwide. Approving marijuana for medical purposes in Florida, chiefly to relieve chronic pain from cancer and other illnesses, would be a humane accommodation. Advocates have been pushing it for years, but Florida was never seen as likely to seriously entertain the once-controversial change. Yet state after state is legalizing its use, and a recent poll shows that medicinal marijuana now enjoys support from more than 70 percent of Florida voters.
The biggest game-changer, though, is wealthy Orlando attorney John Morgan, former Gov. Charlie Crist’s current employer and a large financial supporter of President Barack Obama. Mr. Morgan last month announced that he will spearhead and help to bankroll an effort to get medical marijuana before voters next year as a constitutional amendment.
What’s driving this? Mr. Crist is all but certain to run for governor in 2014 as a Democrat. Many suspect that Mr. Morgan’s effort is intended, at least in part, to gin up turnout among likely Democratic voters. He claims, though, that he was inspired by his father’s struggle with cancer, during which smoking marijuana eased his pain and made it easier for him to eat.
Reading political motives into his pro-legalization activism is not difficult to do, but his organization’s own polling shows that allowing medical marijuana is not necessarily a partisan issue. While Democrats are still more likely to support legalization, so do many Republicans and independents.
Marijuana has long been caught up in the larger “war” on drugs, and its use is widely seen as a “gateway” to other drugs. But moderate marijuana use by adults is less addictive and dangerous than alcohol. A carefully regulated program allowing its use for medicinal purposes could be a first step toward decriminalizing a naturally occurring substance that has resulted in far too many prison sentences.
Eighteen states permit marijuana for medical purposes. Last year, Colorado and Washington legalized its recreational use as well. Possessing and producing marijuana remain federal crimes, but the Obama administration has de-emphasized enforcement. As responsibly regulated marijuana use gains broader acceptance, Florida voters could alleviate suffering for thousands.
for The Post Editorial Board