Thanks to more than one TV show, the words “Miami Metro” conjure images of drugs and gang violence. Indeed, the area is designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area by the DEA. The state’s proximity to the Caribbean and Latin America make it a natural corridor for all manner of illicit drugs. Nevertheless, local attitudes toward marijuana are changing. According to a 2013 poll conducted by the organization People United for Medical Marijuana, 7 in 10 Floridians are in favor of medical marijuana legalization.
The fact that Florida has some of the toughest drug laws in the country may have something to do with this shift. If a citizen of Florida is convicted of any marijuana-related crime, they lose their driver’s license for up to two years. Possession of marijuana in Florida is a crime regardless of whether possession is for personal use. Up to 2 ounces is considered a misdemeanor that carries a one-year prison sentence and a $1,000 fine. Possession of over 20 grams is a felony conviction that carries a five-year sentence and a $5,000 fine. Yet all of this litigation costs money, and so does housing and feeding the convicted.
Grassroots organization United for Care, with the help of well-known Florida attorney John Morgan, seek to capitalize on the shift in public attitude by starting a petition that, if successful, would require the state’s legislature to seriously reconsider their stance. According to Morgan—who has put a great deal of his own funds into the initiative—he is driven by the memory of his late father, whose passing was eased by marijuana.
Manatee County residents Bob and Cathy Jordan are both very vocal supporters of the petition, and their struggle with the law is well known in the state. Cathy Jordan, diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1986, believes that marijuana has helped her survive for decades when doctors initially gave her only years to live. Bob Jordan was jailed in early 2014 for growing pot in their residence. Following an investigation—and a public outcry—the state of Florida did not file charges, citing compassion once it was clear that Jordan was cultivating the plant to ease his wife’s suffering.
Donnie Clark, who has spent 12 years of his life in prison on drug-related charges, is another advocate for the legalization of marijuana sales in the state, claiming that Florida’s semi-tropical climate would allow for mass production of the plant, generating millions in state tax revenue.
Amendment 2, which if put up to a vote would call for the creation of a medical marijuana scheme in Florida, is finding support on both sides of the aisle. Another poll, this one conducted by Public Policy Polling of Florida, found that over 65% of those polled were in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana. Of those, Democrats and Republicans were represented more or less equally. This factoid has many Republicans wondering whether the upstart initiative could impact Republican Charlie Crist’s run for governor if it draws out young voters. However, the data suggests that Florida’s tolerance for marijuana extends only as far as its medical usefulness. A staggering 60% of respondents in the Public Policy Polling questionnaire were against the legalization of recreational pot.