Now that longtime activist and irreverent Fort Lauderdale attorney Norm Kent has become leader of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, what should we call him?
His Highness? Boss Weed? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Joints?
"Stop, you're killing me," Kent said through heavy coughs and laughs when I reached him by phone Monday.
Kent, 63, a cancer survivor, has been battling some major health issues lately, but he's determined to get back on his feet and lead the charge for change as chairman of NORML's national board of directors. The group's efforts are particularly needed in Florida, where a movement to legalize medical marijuana is gaining momentum.
Eighteen states allow medical use of cannabis, and voters in Washington and Colorado have legalized pot for recreational use. Meanwhile, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a dangerous "Schedule 1" drug, the same as heroin and LSD, with no permitted medical use.
Brace for major court clashes over states' rights vs. federal enforcement powers as localized pot legalization sprouts.
"The tide has turned," Kent said. "People want it … If legalization can help people who are suffering from certain afflictions, cut prison costs, and generate tax revenues, we ought to give pot a chance."
It's a sentiment shared by a growing number of politicians and policymakers. I don't think anybody is saying marijuana is completely safe (especially if it's smoked) or doesn't have the potential for abuse, just that it's not necessarily worse than other legalized substances like alcohol, tobacco or prescription painkillers. I say pot should be an option for those suffering from cancer, glaucoma or other medical conditions.
In Tallahassee, state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and state Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, have filed bills (SB1250/HB1139) that would let doctor-authorized users possess up to four ounces and allow for marijuana farms and dispensaries in Florida. Neither bill has been scheduled for any committee hearings yet.
Considering the bills were introduced by a pair of South Florida Democrats and much of the Capitol crowd still inhales the "Just Say No" rhetoric, I'd say this has a chance somewhere between "pigs flying" and "snowball in hell."
Kent is more optimistic: "I can't promise you it will pass this year, but for the first time in the history of our state this is at least going to be debated."
If the bills go nowhere, expect a state constitutional amendment drive. High-profile Tampa attorney John Morgan, who is now former Gov. Charlie Crist's boss, has vowed to pump millions into getting a medical marijuana amendment on the 2014 ballot by petition. It would need 60 percent voter approval to pass.
Clemens named his bill "The Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act," in honor of a wheelchair-bound pot advocate with Lou Gehrig's disease. The week Clemens filed his bill, Manatee County Sheriff's deputies, toting guns and wearing ski masks, raided Jordan's Central Florida home and seized 23 marijuana plants. Prosecutors are deciding whether to file charges.
"She's a real threat to America," Kent said sarcastically. "Let's hope a drone strike isn't next."
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