People United for Medical Marijuana is collecting signatures to put medical marijuana on the next Florida ballot. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

For the second consecutive year, medical marijuana legislation has been filed in the Florida legislature. In fact, when state Sen. Larcenia Bullard filed a companion bill to Rep. Jeff Clements’ House bill, it was the first time that medical marijuana bills have been filed in both chambers.

It’s progress for medical marijuana proponents. But it’s also questionable whether such efforts are simply — pardon the expression — pipe dreams.

Florida, after all, is a state that seems to pride itself on being on the opposite coast from California, the medical marijuana homeland. The Golden State being perceived as young. The Sunshine State perceived as old. Mountains, snow and deserts on one side; coastal flats, thunder and lightning, and everglades on the other. Earthquakes vs. hurricanes. Cold Pacific vs. warm Atlantic. Disneyland vs. Disneyworld. Marijuana vs. OxyContin Express. Politics controlled by liberals versus politics controlled by conservatives.

And yet, we both grow oranges and avocados. In both states, a majority favor the idea of medical marijuana. Here in Florida, the figure is 57 percent, according to a poll earlier this year from Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. And that’s no pothead polling firm. Tony Fabrizio was Rick Scott’s pollster.

Granted, that 57 percent is well below the 73 percent level nationally. And it’s worth remembering that, despite comprising only 36 percent of registered voters, Republicans hold the governor’s mansion and majorities in both chambers. In other words, Florida Republicans are motivated and organized, and run the show in the Sunshine State. And save maverick, libertarian-leaning Republicans such as Ron Paul and Jesse Ventura, Republicans are notoriously hard-line on marijuana.

But it’s also worth noting that Republicans have maintained control by capturing a significant part of the 20 percent of Floridians who consider themselves unaffiliated. It would seem the 20 percent are key to any hopes for medical marijuana advocates. In the Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates poll, Florida independents favored medical marijuana by a 65-35 margin.

Medical marijuana efforts here are fairly nascent. They’ve only been underway since 2009.

And as in all states that have looked at medical marijuana, Florida advocates’ biggest initial hurdle is the perception that anyone who supports medical marijuana supports open drug use. That’s made the issue a political pariah (remember the dismissive answer provided by then-candidate Barack Obama, who acknowledged he smoked pot as a youngster when asked about marijuana legalization during a televised town hall meeting. That perception makes people reluctant to even discuss the issue, despite clear support for it. In state newspapers, the issue has gotten little more than “how cute” coverage.

But that’s not the case in college newspapers, such as The Alligator. Or on internet sites such as Toke of the Town.

You can also read about the issue on the lawyerly Medical Marijuana Blog, get a more stoner view in The Weed Blog, or the more (again, pardon the double entendre), high-minded, serious approach from The Marijuana Policy Project and The 420 Times.

One of the state leaders, People United for Medical Marijuana, (PUFMM — puff medical marijuana, get it?) is trying to bypass the Republican legislature by collecting enough signatures on a petition to force the issue on the ballot. But as of Oct. 29, PUFMM had only gathered 29,922 signatures — only four percent of the 676,811 it needs by Feb. 1.

The attention from college newspapers and blogs shows not only the depth and diversity of support for medical marijuana, but that this is an issue defined as much by generational differences as the typical conservative-liberal divisions. Previous generations were the ones who classified marijuana as being more dangerous and having less medicinal value than Heroin. Marijuana would actually have to be downgraded from its current position as a schedule 1 drug to a mere schedule 2 drug to be considered equal to heroin.

For young people, who are increasingly using marijuana (more than one-fifth of 18 to 25 year olds smoke), that assessment of pot as among the most dangerous known drugs rings false.

But everyone knows that young people, at worst, don’t vote, and at best aren’t a dependable voting constituency.

Now, if seniors were to get involved …

… It could get interesting in Tallahassee.