By Keith Morelli
TAMPA — Florida law enforcement authorities are set to begin a public awareness campaign to fight the effort to legalize medicinal marijuana, a question that will be put to voters in November.
This winter, the Florida Sheriff's Association sent sheriffs across the state an email asking for their support of a resolution opposing the legalization of marijuana. A vast majority of the 67 sheriffs was in favor of fighting against any effort to legalize pot.
Steve Casey, executive director of the Florida Sheriff's Association said the board of directors approved the resolution language, which was emailed to each sheriff for review.
He then polled the sheriffs, he said.
"Of the 67 sheriffs, 63 cast their vote to support the resolution," he said, "and four abstained from voting on the issue."
The association now is drawing in substance-abuse awareness and anti-drug groups around the state to participate in the "Don't Let Florida Go To Pot" campaign focused on defeating the referendum, said Nanette Schimpf, spokeswoman for the association.
Florida voters will decide the issue in November.
"There are a lot of entities in the state that are very concerned about the specific language in the ballot amendment," Schimpf said. "We are launching the coalition (this) week."
In a statement released in January, the association said:
"Florida's sheriffs believe that approving broad exceptions to current state and federal law that would allow doctors to authorize use of marijuana for virtually any reason with little regulation will hurt children and families and lead to a lower quality of life for all."
The association pointed to what it says is a jump in crime and traffic accidents in states that have passed legislation legalizing pot. "Of the 20 states with the highest driver acknowledgement of drugged driving, 15 were states that have passed legislation legalizing marijuana," the association said. "The Los Angeles and Denver police departments have reported significant increases in crime since marijuana was legalized in their respective states."
Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee opposes the legalization of marijuana and said that if the referendum in November passes, there are no rules in place to govern the process, particularly for law enforcement.
"I guess there lot of studies both ways," Gee said, "but if you're going to do something like (legalize marijuana), you should be more thorough about the process. How do you enforce its use and all that?
"The other thing," he said, "there is no way anybody can, with straight face, say more marijuana will not end up in hands of kids. People need to think twice before they add to all the problems we already are having."
Among the reasons the association says it is against the measure:
Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, defined as having a high potential for abuse.
Legalizing marijuana comes with significant dangers to Florida youths, the association said. "The legalization of marijuana will make this drug more readily available and easier to obtain by teens, as they would not need parental consent to get a 'physician's certification' for marijuana. With no quality or dosage control, there is nothing in place to prevent these storefront marijuana dispensaries from selling to minors."
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said he doesn't have a problem with legitimate uses for medical marijuana, such as Charlotte's Web, the oil extract that is used to help those suffering from neurological or epileptic disorders. He said the impacts of the amendment put before voters, though, would go beyond just medical marijuana.
"If the amendment was truly about and focused only on medicinal marijuana, like Charlotte's Web, I would not oppose it,'' Nocco said. "However, the real purpose of this amendment is for recreational marijuana to be legalized, which I oppose."
Joining the "Don't Let Florida Go To Pot" campaign are several substance-abuse awareness groups, including the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance.
"We have coalitions across the state of Florida, in every county," said Cindy Grant, director of the alliance, whose role will be to "educate the community through newspaper and television ads, billboards and presentations throughout the community.
"What we want to do," she said, "is to get the correct information out there."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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