When the vast majority of voters in Florida came together in 2016 and voted to legalize medical marijuana, they had no idea that even though the measure passed, lawmakers would begin pushing against it and banning marijuana dispensaries without the public’s consent.
The Florida Sun Sentinel Editorial Board rebuked local lawmakers in a recent op-ed, and called them out for working against the 72 percent of voters who supported the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes:
“It is hard enough to get people to actually vote, as simple as that task may be. It is even harder when elected officials tell people essentially, that your vote means absolutely nothing. But that’s the message voters are getting in South Florida, after the state voted overwhelmingly to allow dispensaries for medical marijuana. When the medical marijuana amendment was on the ballot last November, 72 percent of Florida voters—an overwhelming majority—supported it. Those voters understood that the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes would be a real source of pain relief for many folks who were suffering with various diseases.”
The board noted that so far, at least six cities in south Florida have banned, or plan to ban, marijuana dispensaries, making it even harder for their sick residents to have access to the natural medicine that can provide treatment.
Dispensaries have now been banned in Sea Ranch Lakes, where 63 percent of voters supported medical marijuana; in Southwest Ranches, where was 70 percent of voters supported it; in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, where support was at 73 percent; and in Royal Palm Beach, where 74 percent of voters supports medical marijuana. Other cities considering bans on dispensaries are Boca Raton and Coral Springs, both of which saw support for medical marijuana at 76 percent.
Not only are medical marijuana dispensaries being prohibited in cities where the overwhelming majority of residents supported their existence, but the excuses lawmakers are giving for the bans are questionable at best.
“Some cities say they are concerned because dispensaries are a cash-only business, and there is a great potential for pot shops to be targeted by thieves,” the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board wrote. “If that’s the case, then they should probably ban all ATMs. Last we saw, ATMs were cash-only.”
The city council in Southwest Ranches used safety to justify its ban, claiming that the town’s “fiscal inability to provide additional public safety personnel” made it impossible for the town to properly protect businesses and the public from the terrifying possibility of things that could occur around this new form of a plant shop. It concluded that banning the dispensaries altogether would be in the best interest of the “health, safety and welfare” of the town’s residents.
The reason given for the possibility of a ban in Boca Raton was that residents could simply go to the dispensaries in neighboring cities such as Boynton Beach and Lake Worth. However, the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board questioned why, when Boca Raton residents approved the measure by a 3-1 margin, their city wouldn’t give them what they voted for. “Public officials very rarely get approved by a 3-1 margin, but medical marijuana did,” the board noted.
“These cities are hurting their own citizens and their own economy,” Orlando attorney John Morgan told the Sun Sentinel. “It’s the arrogance of politicians, and it’s why they are universally despised at the local, state and national level. Those [politicians] are placing themselves at risk in the next election. If I was running against those people, I would use that [attempt to ban dispensaries] as a rallying cry.”
The new trend of banning medical marijuana dispensaries is just another example of the ways lawmakers in Florida have pushed for cracking down on the plant. In fact, they have tighter restrictions than most states on who qualifies for medical marijuana.
Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws told Sarasota Magazine that he believes Florida lawmakers just “wanted to pat themselves on the back” over how restrictive they could be.
“Florida is near the bottom of giving people what they actually voted for,” Strekal said.
While other lawmakers reportedly pushed for bans on medical marijuana dispensaries based on the fact that they were concerned individuals would abuse the law in order to obtain marijuana for recreational purposes, the fact is that this already occurs on a regular basis.
If the failed War on Drugs has taught us anything, it is that if people want marijuana for recreational use, they will find it, no matter what the law says. At the very least, cities in Florida can choose to honor the wishes of the majority of their residents by allowing the plant to be used for medicinal purposes. Otherwise, they might as well be holding up a large sign that says, “Your vote doesn’t matter.”