Medical cannabis legislation that broadly affects the state’s laws has been finding increased support from Republican citizens and lawmakers in Florida. Polls have already found massive support for legalization of the plant for medical purposes among the general populace, as well as Republican districts, and the roadblocks standing in the way of change may soon be toppling.
The biggest roadblock to legalization perhaps is Florida’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott. However, Scott may inadvertently aid the cannabis cause, as he is running for reelection this year and it is estimated his campaign will spend $100 million on television ads to see him win another term in November. His opponent, Democrat Charlie Crist, is supposed to generate $50 million in TV ad spending as well. All of this spending will slash the supply of available ad time, driving the prices of commercials sky-high. That leaves the opponents of marijuana legalization stuck in a situation where they have to raise an incredible sum of money to influence a reversal of the popular opinion of the citizenry in Florida.
The Miami Herald recently published a poll that said a massive 78 percent of voters in Republican districts support the idea of medical legalization. This poll is not an outlier, but rather the norm as numerous others have been recently released. When asked about what would happen if legalizing medical marijuana crossed his desk, Scott remained firm in his stance, saying, “I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path.”
It isn’t a slam dunk for supporters of medical cannabis by any means, as a constitutional amendment would need at least 60 percent of the popular vote to pass in Florida, so a minority of voters, Republican or otherwise, could defeat the proposal. The proponents are clear they are seeking only the legalization of marijuana for medical use as 20 other states and Washington DC have already done, but not recreational use like in Colorado and Washington state. Opponents though point out that legal medical use is just a stepping stone to eventual full cannabis legalization across the state.
A poll conducted by the Tarrance Group that focused specifically on Republican controlled districts found that 47 percent of voters favor outright legalization, with 48 percent opposed, an incredibly slim margin considering the volume of conservative participants. Although these voters are not totally in favor of legalization, there is massive support among them to decriminalize weed.
Opponents have their backs up against the wall. Political candidates must spend nearly $2 million a week to run enough commercials to repeatedly reach the amount of voters that would make a significant difference in the fight. Political candidates also receive the lowest rates for advertising from media outlets, so if political action committees and private interests want to get involved in the ad war, they’ll have to fork over significantly more money. Also, television ads have become less effective in recent years as the amount of unconventional entertainment viewing options continues to multiply. Viewers can fast forward through many commercials or they can watch commercial-free movies and shows via pay cable or streaming services like Netflix, so it will be even more difficult to turn the tide.
The massive popularity has also emboldened some Republican lawmakers in the state to support legislation that would legalize medical cannabis. The most notable situation concerns the marijuana strain nicknamed Charlotte’s Web and its use by people with epilepsy. Charlotte’s Web contains a low amount of THC, the chemical in marijuana that triggers a high, and so it is supported by lawmakers as safe for use by sufferers of the disease. The low THC levels in the weed made the law easier for Republicans to get behind, as they face far less scrutiny for doing so than they would for supporting broader legalization.
The fight will continue raging though as each side states their particular cases and scrambles to find the money to convince voters. The attitudes of Republican supporters in Florida though follow many across the country, as the medical cannabis legalization debate continues.
By Matt Stinson