TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (March 19, 2019) – Yesterday, Florida Governor Ron Desantis signed a bill expanding the states medical marijuana law to allow patients to smoke cannabis. Enactment of this law takes another step toward nullifying federal marijuana prohibition in effect.
Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and Sen. Linda Stuart (D-Orlando) sponsored Senate Bill 182 (S182). The new law changed language in the current medical marijuana statutes to include the possession, use, or administration of marijuana in a form for smoking.
More than 70 percent of Florida voters approved a 2016 ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana. A year later, the legislature passed a bill banning it in smokable forms. Orlando attorney John Morgan filed suit against the state, asserting that the intent of the constitutional amendment was to allow smokable marijuana. Desantis’ had threatened to drop the state’s appeal if the legislature didn’t amend the law to allow patients to smoke cannabis.
“It means the will of the people has been heard,” Morgan wrote to the Orlando Sentinel in an email. “For the sick and injured [it means] an alternative to opioids and pharmaceutical poison. Taken all together it means hope, safe wellness and victory for the people. My job is now done.”
This is another example of the expanding availability of marijuana despite federal prohibition.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Florida’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
Passage of S182 further undermines prohibition make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in the Sunshine State.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Florida joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act. and Michigan passed a ballot measure legalizing cannabis for general use.
With 33 states including Florida allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
Expansion of medical marijuana laws in Florida demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing cannabis, they tend to eventually expand. S182 serves as a perfect example of this tendency. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. This bill represents a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition. It also demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
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