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Unintended consequences muddy medical pot initiative

by Shelah Neece

While waiting to hear the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on the validity of the proposed initiative to decriminalize medical marijuana, there is still much information to be discussed concerning the merit of this proposal. The Pasco County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention of Pasco County does not support the language of the current amendment proposal. It is this coalition’s perspective that this proposed amendment does not disclose the full ramifications of decriminalizing medical marijuana experienced in other states that passed this legislation.

Pasco County cannot risk the negative impacts to the education, economic and public safety sectors of our community.

ASAP has concerns about the negative impact of legalized medical marijuana use on Pasco County youth. Data shows that Pasco youth in treatment for substance abuse report marijuana as their drug of choice. It is no secret that young people “experiment” with the drugs that they can easily access. Permitting the current proposal to move forward is both dangerous and alarming because it allows this drug to become even more readily available to our youth.

Pasco County School District teachers and staff work tirelessly to educate students, and dedicated parents strive to guide their children to make safe and healthy choices. Legalization efforts, particularly those that are vague and can be easily manipulated, undermine the goal of developing the next generation of young adults into productive members of our society.

ASAP’s mission is to “reduce county risk factors and decrease substance abuse rates among youth ...” States that have legalized marijuana use are facing increases in teen drug use and frightening infant and child overdoses from marijuana products.

In addition, shocking data trends in drugged driving accidents and fatalities are a message that we need clearly stated regulations when introducing any new legislation. Law enforcement and mental health professionals attest that challenges of interpreting loosely defined laws are currently demonstrated in the fight to combat the synthetic drug issue and the prescription pill epidemic. Loopholes in the language of the current proposal can lead to similar negative consequences. Florida has the opportunity to learn from the challenges that other states with legalized medical marijuana are facing.

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s brief to the Florida Supreme Court outlines the legal loopholes in the current proposal. Additionally, the Florida Chamber of Commerce voted to oppose the proposed medical marijuana amendment.

Substance abuse prevention is an extremely relevant topic surrounding unemployment conversations. Pasco County needs solutions for our hardworking citizens that will secure their economic future. The language in this proposal would seriously compromise the efforts of local chambers to develop our economy and compound the challenges many companies face when hiring a competent workforce.

The ASAP coalition is strongly invested in creating a safer community for our citizens. There remains debate over the medicinal uses of marijuana and its compounds and appropriate treatment. However, the current proposal does little to ensure Florida will be protected from the consequences felt in states with amendments of similar language.

Pasco County residents deserve the right to make informed decisions about their legislative amendments, and they must be fully informed in order to do so.

Shelah Neece is a program coordinator for the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention of Pasco County.