A groundswell of support among everyday Americans has led to the passage of medical marijuana legislation in 23 states; however, Florida dragged its feet in approving medical marijuana legislation last year.
Although 57% of Floridians voted in favor of passing the medical marijuana measure, the total vote fell shy of the 60% required to make changes to the state's constitution.
The fact that so many people in the Sunshine state back medical marijuana, yet medical marijuana remains criminalized in Florida, has created a heated debate that may end up being settled in the 2016 Presidential election. Let's take a closer look at the battle to decriminalize medical marijuana in Florida, and whether or not medical marijuana stands a chance of passing in the state next year.
First, a bit of background
Medical marijuana has enjoyed a growing level of support among Americans.
Over the past decade, aging baby boomers, many of whom came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, have become more vocal in demanding access to marijuana for the treatment of illness or symptoms caused by life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
The swelling support for the use of medical marijuana is in large part tied to a growing perception that marijuana is not only safe, but that it is also effective at eliminating seizures in epilepsy patients and easing pain in cancer patients.
Admittedly, those perceptions stem from research that has been more anecdotal than scientifically proven.
The majority of medical marijuana studies have been small, and most advocates are driven by first-person success stories, rather than large, placebo-controlled clinical studies. However, research being conducted by biotechnology companies such as GW Pharmaceuticals and Insys Therapeutics into the medical benefits of cannabinioids could provide scientific evidence soon that lends support to medical marijuana boosters.
Regardless, even in the absence of these studies, growing support for marijuana is undeniable. Last fall, Gallup surveyed Americans to gauge their opinion on marijuana and discovered that 51% are OK with legal marijuana, up from just 12% in 1969, and according to a survey conducted by Quinnipiac University earlier this year, support for medical marijuana is even higher. Based on that survey, 88% of Florida's voters think medical marijuana should be legal.
Fails at the ballot
Although the Quinnipiac University survey overwhelming suggests that Floridians favor medical marijuana, too few of the state's supporters put their money where their mouth was last fall.
Medical marijuana's failure in November at the Florida ballot box is being blamed on a variety of things, including confusing language, but well-heeled opponents were likely a significant reason for the defeat, too.
A marketing blitz opposing the measure was financed by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of casino operator Las Vegas Sands. Adelson reportedly forked over $5 million to the anti-marijuana group Drug Free Florida to support their efforts, which ultimately succeeded in convincing enough voters to take a pass on legalizing medical marijuana last year.
Although strong opposition remains for legalizing medical marijuana in Florida, I think that it's more than likely that last year's defeat simply delays the inevitable.
In 2014, recreational marijuana legislation was passed in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. They join Colorado and Washington, which approved recreational marijuana legislation in 2012.
In the last election, Colorado's relative success in commercializing and taxing marijuana helped increase support for recreational marijuana measures, and if additional states can also demonstrate that marijuana can be responsibly regulated and taxed, much like cigarettes and alcohol, then other states are likely to embrace similar policies in future elections, too.
While recreational marijuana gains momentum, far more states have already approved medical marijuana. Overall, 23 states have medical marijuana laws on their books that allow its use, including all of New England and the West Coast.
The hold-out states are overwhelmingly located in the South, but Florida could be among the first of those states to approve medical marijuana given that so many of its seniors have moved there from regions of the country that have already passed this legislation.
While only 47% of people in the South support legalizing pot, the Quinnipiac survey found that 55% of Floridians support legalizing it. That suggests Florida could stand the best shot at being the first Southern state to pass medical marijuana legislation, but that could depend a lot on voter composition.
According to Gallup's survey, support for marijuana legislation does differ widely by political party. Those who lean to the left, rather than the right, are more inclined to support it, and that suggests the success or failure of medical marijuana in Florida may depend a great deal on each Presidential candidate's ability to get voters to polls next year.