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Politics

Lawmaker Stirs Medical Marijuana Pot in Florida

March 9, 2011 - 6:00pm

Hoisting a political longshot, a freshman Democratic legislator wants to put medical marijuana into the state Constitution.

While a recent public opinion poll showed Floridians favoring the idea, state Rep. Jeff Clemens might not even get a hearing in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Undaunted, the Lake Worth lawmaker said Thursday that he wants Florida to join 14 other states and the District of Columbia in marketing medical marijuana.

And, ultimately, Clemens wants to go beyond mere medicinal use. He calls himself a full-on "decriminalization advocate" for pot.

Two other South Florida Democrats -- Rick Kriseman and Mark Pafford -- are listed as co-sponsors of Clemens' House Joint Resolution 1407.

Since the chances for passage of a medical marijuana law remain slim to none in the GOP-controlled Legislature, the Democratic trio is pushing a constitutional amendment, which would be voted on by the electorate at large. Constitutional amendments require a 60 percent majority for enactment.

A new poll by GOP pollster Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates suggested that a majority of Floridians at least mildly support prescription pot.

The poll asked: If there was a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes only when prescribed by a practicing physician and theelection were held today, would you vote 'yes' to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes or 'no' to stop it?

In response:

  • 41 percent said they would definitely vote yes;
  • 17 percent said they would probably vote yes;
  • 31 percent said they would definitely vote no.

Clemens, a Michigan native who moved to Florida in 1997 and served as mayor of Lake Worth from 2007-2009, appeared at Thursday's news conference with health-care professionals and people with debilitative illnesses who touted marijuana's medicinal benefits.

Clemens went on to suggest that prescription pot could be an economic boon to Florida.

Citing weed-related tax revenues from California and Colorado, Clemens projected that Florida could reap "anywhere from $5 million to $12 million." He indicated that the likely number could be at the high end because "we have a large senior population."

Alex Snitker, the Florida Libertarian Party's candidate for U.S. Senate last fall, called Clemens' proposal "great news."

But, he added, "It will never make the ballot, because it will get more people out for Libertarians. I would have got triple the vote [if the measure had been on the ballot]."

House Speaker Dean Cannon deferred comment about Clemens' bill and its prospects for passage. Spokeswoman Katie Betta said Cannon is in the "process of reviewing and referring numerous bills, this bill included."

Politics aside, the medical-marijuana gambit faces resistance on practical grounds.

Widely regarded as the "pill mill" capital of the country, Florida struggles to control "doctor shopping" and the misuse of prescription drugs.

"Already, the Sunshine State is finding it next to impossible to keep oxycodone out of the hands of addicts. That drug is legal only when prescribed by a doctor, and yet addicts are overdosing at rates that surpass any other state in America," a South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist noted this week.

Clemens responded that his proposed 2012 ballot measure, if passed, would not take effect until 2013, after the Legislature enacted the necessary enabling laws.

"If we're still dealing with the pill mill problem two or three years from now, then shame on us," he said.

Besides, he added, "Medicinal cannabis has never killed anyone."

--

Reach Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

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