Talks about legalizing marijuana for medicinal uses are lighting up across the state.
A recent bill proposed to the state legislature would have Florida join the 16 states that currently have legal medical marijuana.
American support for legalizing marijuana is at a new high of 50 percent, according to an October Gallup Poll. Conservative pollster Fabrizio, McLaughlin Associates reported in March that 57 percent of Floridians support it, and a 2010 survey from Gallup found that 70 percent of Americans favored legalizing the drug for medicinal use.
However, it’s unlikely the measure will make it to the 2012 ballot, said Beth Rosenson, a UF political science associate professor.
Most of the members on the Florida legislature are Republican, and passing a bill of this nature will be difficult because of differences in political opinion, she said.
“I would think it’s an uphill battle,” she said.
In addition, politicians don’t want to look like they are supporting drugs, even if the principle behind medicinal marijuana is alleviating ailing patients, she said.
“There’s a stigma in promoting something that supports drug use,” she said.
Grassroots movements have been the cause of medical marijuana legislation in most of the states where it has been legalized, political science instructor Joshua Huder said.
Some states allow citizens to collect signatures for a petition to put an issue directly on the ballot, going completely around state legislatures. But it’s not like that in Florida.
“I don’t think it has much of a chance to get to the floor,” Huder said.
For medicinal marijuana to become widely accepted, he said, more states will have to legalize it first.
“The more it’s in conventional use; the more institutions that support this, the better chance it has,” he said.
Even though medical marijuana is legal in other states, it’s still illegal under federal law.
A Schedule I drug, marijuana is defined by the federal government as a substance with a high potential for abuse with no accepted medical use, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s website.
As a result, the DEA is cracking down on regulation of marijuana in states where it can legally be used for medicinal purposes. This has led the governors of Washington and Rhode Island to petition the federal government to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, the same category as drugs like morphine and OxyContin, meaning it could be legally prescribed by a doctor under federal law.
John Rohde, the treasurer for the student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law, said because marijuana is currently a Schedule I drug, the federal government won’t fund research for medicinal usage. Until then, people will remain doubtful of any possible benefits it may have, he said.
On campus, NORML has advocated for medical marijuana. Last year, the organization collected signatures for a petition to legalize marijuana and helped register people to vote, according to Rohde.
Despite his support for the proposed bill, Rohde said he couldn’t see the bill being passed with the partisan makeup of the legislature.
“It would be wonderful because there are a lot of patients in Florida who desperately need that care,” he said.
Not everyone agrees that medicinal marijuana would be a good thing.
Patrick Shaffer, a 19-year-old political science freshman, thinks if medical marijuana was legalized it would be abused.
“It just seems like an illegitimate method to me,” he said. “There’s a reason why it’s not legal now.”
While he sees how it could help people, Shaffer said the problems would outweigh the benefits.
“It would just cause more problems than it solved,” he said.