This story from the Miami Herald came across my feed today and reinforced my constant preaching that state and local races matter.
Despite rhetoric in marijuana debate, Legislature controls its safety
Here’s the little secret that neither side of the Amendment2 debate over medical marijuana is talking about: The Florida Legislature controls its fate.
You don’t hear it from opposition groups, who warn that legalizing medical marijuana will endanger children, spawn pot shops on every street corner and become the state’s next pill mill fiasco. That will happen only if the conservative Florida Legislature decides not to impose strict rules on who obtains the marijuana, who distributes it and under what conditions.
You don’t hear it from proponents, as the United for Care campaign rolls into college campuses, riding on the hopes of medically needy Floridians, and wishful recreational pot smokers.
Access to medical cannabis for those groups wouldn’t be easy, either, if the Legislature put in place a tightly controlled cultivation and dispensing system similar to one it adopted earlier this year when it legalized low-THC, high CBD strains of cannabis.
And what’s to stop lawmakers from doing any of this and more?
“Nothing,” said Jon Mills, former Democratic House speaker and a constitutional lawyer who wrote the amendment on the ballot before voters on Nov.4. “The Legislature can do anything that is not inconsistent with the Constitution.”
The proposed constitutional amendment, he said, prevents the Legislature from creating a barrier to access for patients diagnosed with nine particular debilitating ailments, or others who meet the requirements of the law. But he noted that it does allow lawmakers to establish a protocol for determining what diseases are eligible for treatment and to put in place rules that keep the public safe.
Mills and former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican, headed up a bipartisan panel of law enforcement, medical and government experts who recently proposed 56 ideas — from doctor certification to treatment center access and product testing — that legislators should include when implementing the amendment.
“The Legislature could require package labeling with potency and dosage,” Mills said. “It could require all plants to be tested and certified, and it could place restrictions on distributors, on caregivers, on growers and doctors.”
The authors of the amendment not only assumed the Legislature would fill in the blanks of the amendment, he said, “we expected it.”
“Amendment2 clearly recognizes a role for the Legislature,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, incoming Senate president. “So if it does pass, the Legislature will be prepared to address, through the standard legislative process, the gaps in the law and to provide guidance to the various state agencies impacted by its passage.”
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who tried unsuccessfully for four years to persuade legislators to pass a medical marijuana law, is optimistic Florida can write rules for a new cottage industry while protecting the public.
“It’s the legislative duty to take the will of the people and fashion it into a law that protects us against the unscrupulous,” he said. “And the only way proper regulations could fail would be if the Legislature and the executive branch do nothing.”
Everyone gets so focused on the campaigns for President, Governor, Senate and Congress, that they don’t pay attention to who’s running for their state legislature much less county commissioner or city council. I’m not saying those races aren’t important. They are. But when it comes to public policy, these “down ballot” races can make all the difference.
You see, it’s not enough to pass a constitutional amendment or initiative, because once it’s passed, it has to be interpreted and implemented. And that’s where the real challenge is. For policy wonks like me, that’s where it gets interesting.
For example, after the voters passed Amendment 64 that legalized marijuana for adult use, the Colorado General Assembly (House and Senate) had to pass bills establishing the structure and enforcement of A64. Once signed by the Governor, these new laws were passed onto the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division to make the statewide rules. In the meantime, local cities and counties were deciding time, place, manner and number of businesses as well as other local ordinances. This process continues as the details of Amendment 64 get sorted out.
If we want real marijuana policy reform, we must elect candidates who understand the issue and have chosen a favorable, or at least reasonable, stance. If they’re vacillating, they must be willing to have the discussion and get educated on the issue.
Many candidates are hesitant to openly and publicly declare their support of marijuana. The stigma and stereotype is alive and well, especially in politics where perception is everything. But they should be willing to get educated on the subject, listening to all sides, not just those that support their own bias.
So how do you know what a candidate’s position on marijuana is?
- First, don’t assume you know their position by what political party they are in. Marijuana policy crosses party lines.
- If they’ve already held political office, look at their voting record. Look at the bills or laws they’ve sponsored.
- Look at who donates to their campaign. Do they represent industries and organizations that are typically favorable or opposed to legalization?
- Pay attention to their surrogates, the people who speak for them. Who hosts fundraisers and events for them? Who are their experts? Who has their ear?
- Most important: Ask them! Be as direct as you can. Here are some ideas: “What is your policy on marijuana?” “What is your greatest concern when it comes to marijuana?” “How do you think legalization should be implemented?” “When it comes to marijuana and states’ rights, what do you think we should do about the feds?” “When it comes to educating the public, what do you think the message should be?” “If it had been left up to you, how do you think legalization should have been implemented? What would you do differently?”
- Beware the politician who declares only that they will “honor the will of the voters.” That statement completely dodges the question. Why? Because it could mean anything. How do they plan to do that, and which voters are they talking about?
Which brings me back to my original point.
Pay attention to the rest of the ballot, the local races. The wheels of the federal government turn slowly, if they move at all. But the decisions these folks make at the local level will likely have the most immediate impact on your daily life. They will be deciding how laws about marijuana, as well as other critical issues, are interpreted and enforced in your community.
Once you find a favorable candidate, get them elected! Donate to their campaign. Volunteer to make phone calls or knock on doors. Tell your friends and neighbors.
Most important… get out and VOTE!