ORLANDO -- It's a battle raging in the nation's capital and several states around the country: Should marijuana be legalized?
News 13's Kristin Kane went In Depth with our legal analyst, Mark NeJame, to discuss the push to legalize pot, and asks if it could become legal in Florida.
A bill to legalize medical marijuana fell short in both the Florida House and Senate this session, but the bill's sponsor in the House said she plans to file the bill again next year.
So, we wanted to get a little insight about this from News 13's legal analyst, Mark NeJame.
KRISTIN KANE: Let's start by talking about marijuana. Still technically illegal under federal law, how is it that a state can override that law?
MARK NEJAME: Well, a state can't really override it, but what a state can do is have separate laws. But a thing a lot of people fail to recognize and realize is that you can have federal jurisdiction and you can have state jurisdiction, and they can be in competition with each other. There can be a conflict there, and we see that right now in the federal system.
All marijuana is still illegal in the federal system. However, as we know, many states have gone ahead and legalized it, either for recreational use, which is only a couple, or medical use, which is many more. So, I think what you are finding now that the Obama administration is having a step-down. They are simply saying they are not going to enforce the state marijuana laws as they relate to medical marijuana. And I think it's probably a wise thing, because you can't very well have the state saying, "We're going to have a small amount that we are accepting," and then the feds come in and make an arrest. And typically, those small amounts are not what the feds would go after in the first place.
KK: Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. have passed medical marijuana legislation. Why do you think those laws were able to get through?
MN: Well, I think, very simply, that you have a more liberal, more open-minded constituent than you find in many other states, including Florida. I think we saw that recently; the House and the Senate both rejected this, and we still have a very conservative constituency in Florida. And I think it takes a lot of courage for a lot of politicians to come forward and say, "We need to change this a bit."
And when you speak to a lot of people in law enforcement, higher-ups and such, they will tell you that they believe this is a failed policy to continue to prosecute small marijuana cases. It costs an incredible amount of money, of taxpayer resources to go after these cases, and even law enforcement - from the State Attorney's Office to the local police agencies - are really not enforcing it in a great amount a lot of times.
So, I think, very simply, that it's moving in that direction. I think the first door will be medical marijuana, and at some point over the years, people will consider whether they want it to go beyond that.
KK: Let's take it one step further. We know that Colorado and Washington have both legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults. Does that set a precedent now for other states in the future?
MN: Well, it could - I mean, to the extent that it's not a legal precedent - but I think you are going to simply find that a lot of states, once that door is open, they will simply evaluate it over time.
I don't think you are going to see recreational marijuana in Florida any time soon, and there's a legitimate debate about that, and that is that you open the doors to too much going on. But on the other hand, if we know that it's far less harmful than other things that are totally illegal, and we know that it truly helps people with medical conditions, I think we are going to find, in the very near future, medical marijuana being accepted in Florida. And then, over the years, there will be a determination made in the electorate whether personal use would be permitted or not. But I think you're not going to even have that discussion taking place in Florida as it relates to personal use, recreational. I think you will have heated and appropriate debate over the medical marijuana. Medical marijuana clearly helps people in given circumstances.
The challenge is that once that door is open, you find like in California, every street corner has marijuana dispensaries, and people go in there and are getting false scripts - or whatever, from their doctors, who are very open minded - and they're getting marijuana. You know, if you go into those places, what's on the shelves is very much like what you would find in the grocery store and seeing a variety of sodas.