Marijuana policy expert joins the growing Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot coalition.
A Colorado expert who helped state officials there develop regulations after voters approved legalized marijuana is warning Floridians that they too could be on the path to legalizing recreational use of the drug if they support Amendment 2 in November, which would authorize marijuana under the guise of medicine.
Colorado made history in 2012 by becoming the first state to legalize recreational use of marijuana. But the story actually began 14 years earlier, when voters passed a constitutional amendment approving marijuana as a compassionate solution for desperately ill patients that led to massive fraud and abuse, said attorney Rachel O’Bryan, who was appointed to work on marijuana regulatory issues by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. O’Bryan now serves as spokesperson for Smart Colorado, a non-profit group, formed in 2013, dedicated to minimizing the negative consequences of legalizing pot in that state and especially its impact on youth.
After Colorado voters legalized marijuana as “medicine,” they saw how easy the drug was to obtain and how widely it was being used for recreational—rather than medicinal—purposes. So two years ago, they voted to totally legalize pot for anyone 21 or older as a way to bring back honesty to the state’s marijuana laws, O’Bryan said. She suggested that Floridians educate themselves on Colorado’s experience with legalizing marijuana, because the Sunshine State is on a very similar path.
“In November, Florida voters will be faced with a choice of legalizing marijuana for medical use. Voters should ask themselves now whether they want commercialized, recreational marijuana use legalized in Florida, because that is the direction Florida is headed with Amendment 2,” O’Bryan said.
O’Bryan spoke Wednesday during a news conference at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee, where she was joined by Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation, Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger and representatives of the Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot coalition. O’Bryan announced that she is joining the growing coalition, which provides information to Floridians about the social, educational and health consequences of legalizing marijuana use.
“Rachel O’Bryan has witnessed firsthand what happened after Colorado voters legalized marijuana under the guise of medicine, and she has been in the trenches assisting her state in grappling with the many negative implications from that decision,” Sheriff Eslinger said. “The lessons she brings from Colorado are critical for Floridians to understand in order to make their own informed choices.”
O’Bryan pointed out that Florida’s Amendment 2 contains three “fatal flaws” that mimic problems with Colorado’s law that legalized marijuana under the guise of medicine—and that ultimately opened the door to legalizing recreational use of pot in that state.
First, Florida’s Amendment 2 allows for any medical condition to qualify for marijuana treatment by defining a “debilitating medical condition” as one that includes “other conditions for which a physician believes the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.” The likely result of this open-ended language is that individuals will use marijuana recreationally, despite the amendment’s stated intent not to allow this, O’Bryan said.
Colorado’s amendment legalizing marijuana as so-called medicine did the same thing by stating broadly that pot could be used to treat “severe pain.” As a result, Colorado’s patient registry statistics show that only one percent of patients use marijuana to treat HIV, AIDS, or glaucoma; only two percent list seizures; only three percent list cancer; while 94 percent list “severe pain,” a highly subjective, unverifiable condition.
Second, Florida’s Amendment 2 allows “medical” marijuana treatment centers to develop food products, even though most other types of medicines are not imbedded in food. These food products make it easier to discreetly consume marijuana, even on school property or at work. Colorado’s amendment legalizing marijuana as “medicine” also allowed food products. Today in Colorado, marijuana is infused in brownies, soda, breakfast cereals, cookies and snacks, cooking oil and salad dressings. Some “medical” marijuana companies are even buying children’s candies like Swedish Fish or Sour Patch Kids and spraying them with marijuana oil, O’Bryan said.
Third, Florida’s Amendment 2 places no age limits on “qualifying users” and also provides for user confidentiality. Coupled together, these two provisions open the door for Florida teenagers to be able to legally obtain marijuana without their parents being notified, O’Bryan said. This has significant social and educational implications for Florida’s youth, as long-term studies have shown that weekly marijuana use before age 18 is associated with a permanent decline in IQ.
Colorado’s amendment legalizing marijuana under the guise of medicine also placed no age limits on recipients, O’Bryan noted. As a result, the state has recently seen an explosion of “medical” marijuana users who are 18 to 20 years old. The number of people in this age range has increased by more than 46 percent since the end of 2012, while the state’s total “medical” marijuana patient registry only increased to two percent. Meanwhile, the latest Healthy Kids Colorado Survey found that 52 percent of high school seniors said it is “very easy” to get marijuana; 51 percent know someone with a medical marijuana card; and more than 11 percent said they had gotten marijuana within the previous 30 days from someone with a medical marijuana card.
O’Bryan noted the ballot summaries for proposed constitutional amendments in Florida are limited to just 75 words, which is typically all that voters read. Based on her expert interpretation of Florida’s Amendment 2, she said the ballot summary could read this way:
Allows for the use of marijuana for ANY medical condition. Allows teenagers to obtain marijuana without parental notification. Allows for the development of marijuana-infused foods, including candy and snacks that appeal to children. Does not recognize private property rights of landlords or condominium associations to prohibit the use of marijuana in multi-unit dwellings. Waives a patient’s right to medical malpractice claims against their physician related to their treatment with marijuana.
“Would Florida voters still support this amendment if they had a full and accurate summary of what the amendment does?” O’Bryan asked.
Legalizing marijuana as a so-called “medicine” has literally changed the landscape in Colorado, especially Denver. Today, there are 493 pot shops in Colorado and 195 alone in Denver, where so-called medical marijuana shops now outnumber pharmacies, liquor stores, McDonald’s and Starbucks.
“Marijuana is smelled on the street and smoked in front yards,” O’Bryan said, adding this warning: “Florida voters, you may think you won’t go as far as Colorado and Washington, but you will be one step closer.”
ABOUT DRUG FREE AMERICA FOUNDATION, INC.
Drug Free America Foundation, Inc. is a national and international drug policy organization promoting effective and sound drug policies, education and prevention. www.dfaf.org.
For more information on Drug Free America Foundation, please visit www.dfaf.org, follow us on Twitter @DrugFreeAmerica and like DFAF on Facebook.
The Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot coalition is a collective effort of more than 100 local and state organizations to educate Floridians on the dangers of marijuana. From law enforcement to substance abuse groups, the coalition is working statewide to ensure public safety and the future of our youth.