In My Opinion

Grimm: Florida GOP fights yesterday’s war on pot

Two guesses why I’ve found myself standing mid-way down the aisle in Home Depot, staring stupidly at an array of flappers, flush valves, drip irrigators, bath tub levers, PVC piping and sump pumps, with no memory of what I’m doing here.

Surely my forgotten mission has nothing to do with the “GoBidet Ultimate Electric Bidet Seat,” though the gadget does come with a control panel with more offerings than a video game. A fellow could stay occupied most of the morning running through the options.

The correct answer is: A) Because the old prefrontal cortex ain’t what it used to be.

Not such an easy answer to guess, given that portents of advancing age — chronic forgetfulness, aimless behavior, acquaintances’ names disappearing into the ether, inexplicable pleasure derived from Seinfeld re-runs — are exactly the same symptoms attached to the other option: B) Zonked out on Colorado SleeStax X Skunk.

But it can’t be answer B. Because I don’t live in Colorado, where 65 percent of the voters last week approved a 15 percent tax on sales of pot, which the same electorate legalized in 2012 (along with voters in Washington state).

I live in Florida, where the state leadership pretends public sentiment about marijuana hasn’t evolved since the days when young Republicans were grooving to The Captain & Tennille on their eight-track cartridges.

Last spring, in a burst of drug-war nostalgia, the Legislature passed a quaint throw-back law (32-2 in the Senate, 112-3 in the House) that outlawed sales of bongs and water pipes. In fact, selling any smoking device is now illegal in Florida other than a pipe “that is primarily made of briar, meerschaum, clay or corn cob.” Which is such a peculiar specification, it was as if legislators were puffing SleeStax X Skunk before the vote.

Meanwhile, 20 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, eleven of those by statewide referendum. Most of those passed by more than a 60 percent margin. Perhaps something similar could happen in Florida, given that we’re stuck with the most arthritic, oh-my-aching-back/knees/elbows electorate in the western world. A group called United for Care has collected 200,000 names on a petition toward the 683,149 needed by Feb. 1 to get a medical marijuana initiative on the statewide ballot next fall.

This has not pleased the state’s attorney general, speaker of the House and president of the Senate, who have demanded that the Florida Supreme Court keep this measure away from the voters. Senate President Don Gaetz complained the pot petition appealed “to voters by using language that evokes emotional responses [that] are not appropriate for ballot titles and summaries of proposed constitutional amendments.”

Gaetz knows something about misleading ballot initiatives. As the Herald’s Rochelle Koff pointed out, Gaetz was one of the architects of a blatant misnomer called the “Health Freedom Act,” which was designed to torpedo the Affordable Care Act. Last year, the state Supreme Court said the Health Freedom act was misleading and needed to be rewritten. It was. And voters rejected it.

Opponents of medical marijuana in Florida now have a new reason to be worried. On Tuesday, 64 percent of the voters in the Miami Beach municipal election favored legalizing medical marijuana. Granted, the ballot question was a non-binding straw vote, but as my colleague Marc Caputo noted, medical pot received 1,000 more votes than Philip Levine, the winning candidate for mayor. Unlike for Levine, no recount was necessary.

The Miami Beach vote alarmed establishment types. On Friday, the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce fired off a news release announcing they’d be joining the legal fight to keep the “ill-conceived” medical pot initiative off the ballot. Because you just can’t trust those damn voters.

Florida’s political leadership seems oblivious to a fast-evolving public attitude toward marijuana. While Miami Beach was voting in favor of medical marijuana, voters in three cities in Michigan and in Portland, Maine, voted by overwhelming margins to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot. In October, a Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans thought the drug should be legalized. Straight legalization. None of this medical marijuana pretense. (Back in 1969, when Gallup made its first query on legalizing marijuana, only 12 percent said yes. Times have changed.)

Among Democrats and independents, more than 60 percent told Gallup they favored legalization, compared to only 35 percent of Republicans. Which might explain the bong vote in Florida last spring.

Republicans may either be lagging behind the times or they’re simply intent on protecting the private prison industry, a burgeoning force in Florida politics not interested in any measure that would depopulate those lucrative lock-ups. Besides, non-violent pot-heads make such nice compliant prisoners.

Oddly enough, Colorado’s conservative Republicans helped pass the legalization measure last year. Former Republican Congressman and famous right winger Tom Tancredo, in an op-ed piece before the 2012 election, argued, “Our nation is spending tens of billions of dollars annually in an attempt to prohibit adults from using a substance objectively less harmful than alcohol. Marijuana prohibition is perhaps the oldest and most persistent nanny-state law we have in the U.S.”

The additional measure Colorado passed last week will provide money to regulate pot sales and provide an estimated $27 million a year for school construction. Gov. John Hickenlooper (don’t try spelling that name after any SleeStax X Skunk) tweeted after the election, “Marijuana, Cheetos & Goldfish all legal in CO. Now we’ll have the $$ to regulate, enforce & educate.’’

That’s very different from the attitude in Tallahassee, where Gov. Hickenlooper’s remarks may prompt our legislators to consider putting Cheetos and Goldfish into the same contraband category as bongs and pipes made of anything other than briar, meerschaum, clay or corn cobs.

Florida’s anti-pot legislators might find solace in another finding in last month’s Gallup Poll. Some 53 percent of the respondents over 65 still oppose legalization. And we’ve got more than our share of cranky oldsters in Florida.

Personally, I find the elderly’s anti-legalization attitude a little puzzling. Me? I’d endorse any policy that would send the young wandering around Home Depot as befuddled as me.

Hey, we can all get together in the plumbing department and check out those mesmerizing electric bidets.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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