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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

If You Use Cannabis, You Could Go to Jail

If you use marijuana, you could go to jail. Odds are, you will have an enjoyable evening with your friends, relaxing with a little bit of cannabis; but you could go to jail. You may be curing yourself of a terrible disease with a plant from your backyard, but you could go to jail. Cannabis is illegal -- in Florida. As an alumnus of the U (we called it UM back then), I am proud to see that Miami recently passed a $100 fine for the possession of cannabis. Paying $100 beats going to jail or court, or even a PO's pee cup. A good start for sure, but there are other ways to gain revenue from something people are going to do anyway.

The US Declaration of Independence speaks to unalienable rights. The Bill of Rights serves as a testament to exactly how free a people we chose to be in that moment. While we cannot ignore the gradual infringement and erosion of those enumerated Constitutional rights, other rights that many deem unalienable have been arbitrarily denied to the people. In particular, if the Founding Fathers had realized that we would prohibit their beloved cannabis plant then the right would have been enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

Floridians for Freedom (www.FloridaFreedomGroup.com) understands that whether we are talking about medical use, research or otherwise responsible adult use of cannabis, prohibition is the problem that obstructs our liberty and perverts our justice system. We are a group of tenured activists with decades of combined experience in working to update the laws concerning cannabis in Florida, in order to formalize what so many are already saying and doing. By careful deliberation, we agreed that the best approach today is to start with a Constitutional Amendment, and let the voters decide whether adults have the right to cannabis.

Our one-page Florida Constitutional Amendment petition, if approved by the people, will remove criminal penalties for possession, cultivation and use of cannabis by adults 21 and older. It opens the door and provides cover for lawmakers to create sensible policies that protect public safety and could generate considerable revenue.

We are proposing this amendment to take back our fundamental right to heal ourselves. This amendment guarantees the rights of otherwise responsible adults to have, use, and grow cannabis on their private property. For patients, it provides the freedom to choose and the right to use cannabis as a first option in their treatment. Treating oneself is a fundamental human right. Cannabis belongs to all of us. Our brains and body have receptors for cannabinoids -- the active ingredients in the plant. Nature gave us a cure for every ailment, and everyone has a right to use what nature has given us.

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the US Constitution assure the people and the states that, even though the Bill of Rights could not encompass everything we have the right to do, those rights that we retain as people and states still exist. Communities like Miami-Dade, Key West, Palm Beach, Hallandale Beach and others have made it clear that they want no part in enforcing laws against cannabis. We believe that the simple answer is to define our right to cannabis in the Florida Constitution and to leave it up to the Legislature to regulate the lucrative commerce in cannabis. The lobbyists are already in Tallahassee.

In 5 states and the District of Columbia, voters made cannabis legal for adults. The programs are a huge success where they are being implemented in earnest. Colorado businesses are making a mint and paying a mint in taxes. In Florida, the medical marijuana ballot initiative failed to pass, but with a majority voting for it. It failed, in part, because regulation does not belong in the Constitution. Once passed, It cannot be modified by the Legislature, regardless of need. However, the Legislature has made it clear that they have no business going against federal law to create sensible, modern policies. If we put the right to cannabis in the Florida Constitution, we are protecting our justice system from abuse and protecting our citizens from the miscarriage of justice.

Helping Lawmakers Help Us

When I was diagnosed with ALS in 1986 and given three to five years to live, I would never have imagined I would be doing anything for another 20 years.  Lucky for me, someone was willing to break the law and give me cannabis or I would be dead. As president of FLCAN, I’ve worked for two decades to clear the way for other suffering patients to access cannabis and have been frustrated at every turn.

First, I went to my doctors, sharing with them the research I uncovered about the medical uses of cannabis. It treated my symptoms, the muscle spasms, the pain, the anxiety and it increased my appetite. At the time, science didn’t know it was also working in my brain to protect the cells. It wasn’t until 2001 when the Federal Government applied for a patent on cannabis as a neuroprotectant that everyone could see why cannabis worked for me.

Then, when I was told if a cure for ALS was found, then my illegal drug use (that is daily use of cannabis) would assure I would not be eligible for the cure, I set out to help change the laws.

After working through the last four sessions in Tallahassee, I’ve developed a great respect for Senators Evers and Gaetz. Both men are moving the conversation about cannabis in their own way. Senator Evers is excellent. He is my kind of guy, abrupt, to the point, honest and forthright. 

He is very supportive of creating exemptions for an agricultural hemp program. Senator Gaetz amazed us all when he admitted to obtaining cannabis illegally for a dying friend in the 1980’s. Then, with his son, Representative Matt Gaetz led the charge to make cannabis medically legal in 2014. While I admire both men and appreciate them always giving me time to make a point, their hands are tied. The federal ban on cannabis leaves our lawmakers in a real bind. 

When we first went to talk about cannabis to lawmakers, veterans, like my husband, Bob, were committing suicide at a rate of 11 per day. Now the numbers are closer to 22 deaths per day. In states with access to cannabis suicide rates are going down. 

I have a sovereign right to heal myself and so do you. That is why I helped found Floridians for Freedom. We’ve launched a citizen’s initiative to make possession, cultivation and use of cannabis by adults 21 and older lawful in Florida. Under this amendment patients can lawfully put a seed in the ground. Our amendment opens the door for lawmakers to pass good regulation to protect consumers by starting with a legal product.

We want Florida voters to know personal liberty is what belongs in the Constitution. I agree my right to use cannabis ends when it violates your rights; that is why our petition engages the legislature in the rulemaking process. Nothing in our amendment forces private employers to hire cannabis users, nothing in the amendment forces apartment owners to tolerate cultivation by their tenants. 

The Right of Adults to Cannabis allows me to put a seed in the ground to treat myself. I hope you will claim this right as your own and that you’ll talk to your neighbors about supporting our efforts.

Insanity is doing the same thing over again

Cannabis prohibition has failed. Even as the 1970 Congress moved to classify cannabis in the same category as heroin, doctors and researchers stood in opposition. After more than 40 years of federal prohibition, more than 30 states have challenged the federal prohibition. States have removed criminal penalties for possession, made exceptions for medically needy patients and, since 2012, have created legal markets for the sale of cannabis to adults.

Florida is still stuck in the Stone Age. In 2013, with the passage of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, we had hope that the most severely ill among us would have access to cannabis oils and extracts. Nearly two years later and not the first seed has been put in the ground. Even as several Florida counties are removing criminal penalties in favor of a civil citation, the Florida Sheriffs Association is maneuvering to prevent more counties from following suit.

I have spent more than twenty years out front in the movement to recalibrate our cannabis laws. I’ve seen support grow from a trickle to a flood. Even after more than 50% of midterm voters approved a medical amendment for cannabis, lawmakers still found themselves unable to remove barriers to access for patients.

After much prayerful consideration, I find myself in a complementary, yet duel role, Executive Director of the Florida Cannabis Action Network and as Chair of a newly formed, nonpartisan political action committee dedicated to ending cannabis prohibition through the ballot. Floridians for Freedom (www.FloridiansforFreedom.com) understands prohibition is the problem. We’ve come to understand that lawmakers cannot be asked to make sensible regulations while cannabis remains prohibited. Our amendment will remove criminal penalties for possession, cultivation and use of cannabis by adults 21 and older. It opens the door for lawmakers to create sensible policies that actually protect public safety.

Communities like Jacksonville stand divided. In Duval County, 57.6% of the voters supported the constitutional amendment for access to cannabis as medicine. Yet, law-abiding citizens are still watching their loved ones suffer without access to cannabis. If you are willing to break the law, cannabis is relatively easy to access. While every day men and women are criminalized for simple possession of cannabis at alarming rates, our arrests only represent a fraction of the people who use cannabis each month. Police are caught in the middle, enforcing laws that made no sense when they were passed and have no place in modern society. 

Floridians for Freedom thinks it is time to end the prohibition of cannabis. The illegal marketplace has thrived too long. Criminalizing adults for treating cannabis like alcohol is ridiculous, when cannabis is shown to be as safe as, or safer than alcohol. 

Floridians for Freedom doesn’t want to tell lawmakers how to regulate the plant, we want to give them permission regulate it. People have a fundamental right to treat themselves, to put a seed in the ground and be free to do this on their own private property. We agree the sale and purchase of cannabis should be regulated to protect our communities and consumers. We are asking communities around the state to stand with us in support of this citizens’ petition to remove criminal penalties for cannabis by otherwise responsible adults. People have suffered without safe, legal access to cannabis for too long. 



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