By Dr. Vincent Giordano, Program Director, Criminal Justice at American Public University
Conventional wisdom holds that Southern states will never legalize marijuana, medical or otherwise, due to the various political, religious, and cultural issues that are unique to the region. The two most powerful states in the region, Texas and Florida, are traditionally conservative politically. Further, many Southern states are dry counties even though alcohol is legal.
So what chance does cannabis have in Dixie?
Medical marijuana may actually have a chance in the South. Recently, there has been a movement in the state of Florida to make medical marijuana legal. This is not a legislative or executive effort. In fact, when Florida’s governor Rick Scott took office he tried to mandate drug tests for individuals who apply for welfare before they can receive assistance, irrespective of any evidence of a crime being committed.
Governor Scott’s position was clear, “Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive,” and “We will protect children and families in our state.” (Scott, n.d. para. 1). Unfortunately for Rick Scott, the drug testing law was overturned by both the lower courts and the state appeals court (Delaney, 2013).
Legislative efforts have been muted or treated with hostility from state law enforcement agencies. For example Sen. Jeff Clemens (D) and Rep. Katie Edwards (D) filed SB 1250 and HB 1139, which would exempt seriously ill patients from being prosecuted for marijuana crimes so long as they had a doctor’s recommendation that the drug was medically necessary (Marijuana Policy Project, n.d.). The bill’s namesake Cathy Jordan, who suffers from Lou Gerhig’s disease, had her house raided by the Manatee Sheriff’s Office the day that an article was published in the Miami Herald that discussed Cathy’s marijuana use in order to manage her symptoms (Balko, 2013).
Now the stage is set for a battle to establish medical marijuana through the voting booth. Leading the charge is John Morgan a well-known medical malpractice attorney and major political contributor. For Mr. Morgan the issue is more personal and less political;his father needed to use marijuana to help reduce the nausea associated with cancer of the esophagus. Morgan recalled in a recent article in the Jacksonville Business Journal that his father was staunchly against drug use, but still used marijuana illegally in order to sit down with his family and eat a meal.
Another important connection that Morgan has to this issue is the fact he employs former Republican Governor Charley Christ. Christ is considering running for the Governor’s office in 2014 against Rick Scott. Coupled together with Scott running for a second term there is a serious possibility that a constitutional measure to allow medical marijuana in the state of Florida could pass. Due to the fact that Rick Scott is perceived to be unpopular in the state it may be a swaying point for voters to vote Scott out if this item is added to the ballot.
What does this all mean for those working in the criminal justice field in Florida?
First the question is if a medical marijuana amendment has a chance to pass in a state that has been heavily Republican for at least two decades. The answer appears to be yes. According to the Miami Herald, 7 of 10 voters support a medical marijuana amendment. That could mean that close to 70 percent of the Florida electorate could support medical marijuana. This is notable because it takes 60 percent of the electorate to vote in favor to pass an amendment into law in Florida.
This could mean many changes for law enforcement procedures as officers try to determine who is permissibly using cannabis and who is not. Furthermore, there will be the concerns associated with driving under the influence and diversion of medical marijuana for recreational purposes. It is because of this last potential issue that I predict that if medical marijuana becomes law in Florida, recreational marijuana use may not be too far down the line. And as Florida goes so does the South, especially more liberal Southern states like the Carolinas, Virginia and possibly Tennessee.
About the Author: Dr. Vinnie Giordano Ph.D, CAP, CCJAP- obtained his bachelor’s in liberal arts from Long Island University/ C.W. Post with a specialization in political science. He then went on to achieve his Master of Science in Criminal Justice from Florida Metropolitan University, and another Master of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Giordano obtained his Ph.D. in Human Services with a specialization in Criminal Justice from Capella University. Before coming to APUS as a full-time employee, Dr. Giordano worked in the field of substance abuse and behavioral health for 13 years where he worked as a substance abuse counselor in a Department of Corrections-funded youthful offender program. There he maintained positions in counseling and supervising for a 28-day residential and aftercare program, and as the Administrator of Juvenile Services at the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center.
Balko, R. (2013, February 26). Raid of the day: Florida cops raid Cathy Jordan, medical marijuana activist who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/26/raid-of-the-day-florida-c_n_2765920.html
Caputo, M. (2013, February 2). Poll:7 in 10 back Florida medical-marijuana plan, enough to possibly affect governor’s race. Miami Herald. Retrieved from: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/25/v-fullstory/3253273/poll-7-in-10-back-fl-medical-marijuana.html
Scott, R. (n.d.) Governor Scott. We will appeal welfare drug testing to Supreme Court. Retrieved from http://www.flgov.com/2013/02/26/governor-scott-we-will-appeal-welfare-drug-testing-to-supreme-court/
Delaney, A. (2013, February 26). Florida welfare drug testing law gets no reprieve from appeals court. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/26/florida-welfare-drug-testing_n_2766479.html
Marijuana Policy Project (n.d.). Florida. Retrieved from http://www.mpp.org/states/florida/
Menzel, M. (2013, August 2). John Morgan: Marijuana is about morality, not politics. Jacksonville Business Journal. Retrieved from: http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/news/2013/08/02/john-morgan-medical-marijuana-is.html?page=all