Florida voters to consider legalizing medical marijuana in fall 2014

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Limited medical marijuana use is now legal in Florida, and voters will soon consider expanded use, which may have mixed effects for residents and visitors.

In June 2014, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill legalizing limited use of medical marijuana. People in Orlando with conditions such as cancer, epilepsy and Lou Gehrig's disease can now use prescribed marijuana without risking charges of drug possession, according to the Tampa Bay Tribune. Although the law is beneficial for qualifying patients, it is also narrow, allowing only one strain of marijuana to be used by a small subset of patients.

This November, Florida residents will decide whether to legalize broader use of medical marijuana, which offers advantages and potential risks. Advocates contend medical marijuana is safe to use and effective for many medical purposes. Critics, meanwhile, worry about ways the drug may affect personal health and public safety.

Safety and health considerations

The use of medical marijuana can benefit people with conditions such as cancer, AIDS and glaucoma. Research has shown that marijuana can relieve pain and nausea, reduce vomiting, improve appetite and lower pressure in the eyes, according to the American Cancer Society. There are also claims that marijuana can control seizures, make asthma attacks less severe and inhibit tumor growth, though research does not conclusively support these assertions.

Advocates contend that marijuana use is less dangerous to society and less harmful to individual health than alcohol use. According to the Huffington Post, alcohol carries a risk of dependency, causes various systemic health problems and contributes to car accidents and violent crimes. Dependency is possible but unlikely with marijuana, and studies have shown that marijuana may decrease aggression or violent behavior.

Legal issues

Even if Floridians legalize medical marijuana, people who use the drug may face legal complications. Child Protective Services treats marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug and may remove children from homes where it is used, even if the parents have a prescription that the state considers legal, according to CNN. Employers may observe federal laws and fire employees on the basis of drug test results. Medical marijuana users may even be charged with driving intoxicated if they visit states with zero-tolerance laws.

At the same time, legalization of medical marijuana would lead to fewer people being arrested for marijuana possession, which is a non-violent and victimless crime. The number of these arrests made in Florida is significant, as these figures from the Sun-Sentinel reveal:

  • In 2010, Florida authorities arrested more than 55,000 people for possession of marijuana.
  • These arrests represented 92 percent of all marijuana-related arrests and 40.9 percent of all drug possession-related arrests.
  • In the last decade, the rate of arrests for marijuana possession has increased 11.4 percent.

Though people without prescriptions would still face charges, people with legitimate medical needs would no longer risk misdemeanor or felony drug possession charges.

Under current state laws, the consequences of possessing marijuana can be steep for people who don't qualify for prescriptions. Anyone facing marijuana-related charges should make sure to speak with an attorney about handling those charges.

Keywords: drug charges, marijuana, legalization