TALLAHASSEE — Sometimes it's fun watching political battles, handicapping the combatants, keeping score and reducing heady social or fiscal-policy issues to the intellectual level of fantasy football.
Then there's medical marijuana. It's just not the same.
Here's my rub: kids.
You just can't divorce the politics of medical marijuana in Florida from the noble policy objectives of trying to help ease suffering for sick and dying human beings. Especially when they are children.
The marijuana-legalization amendment likely headed to voters next fall is favored by more than 80 percent of voters.
It is being couched in terms of showing compassion for the sick — so much so that Republican lawmakers themselves for the first time ever are considering legislation this year to legalize some medicinal-marijuana use for children with epilepsy.
"I think it's an issue of compassion, quite frankly," Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said last week. "I support it. I think it's the right thing to do."
But at the same time, it can't possibly hurt his chances of reclaiming his old job.
Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan — Crist's employer — says he has invested $2.8 million in the marijuana drive to help end the hypocrisy of people forced to seek it illegally to ease their pain. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and other groups backing incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott call the initiative a smoke screen to gin up voters for Crist.
They both make valid points.
Political-science researchers for years have found evidence social and tax issues on the ballotincrease turnout, although the effect is often marginal and varies by issue.
Even the act of gathering more than 1 million signatures for the drive can have a mobilization effect on "irregular" voters when the question reaches the ballot, according to one 2012 study in the journal Political Behavior by researchers at the University of Arkansas and University of Florida.
"It certainly should have a mobilizing effect. It very well might be marginal, but in a close election it could be determinative," said UF political scientist Daniel Smith, one of the co-authors.
At the same time, the debate made it to the dinner table of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, whose son is a House chairman pushing to draft a legalization bill for a special type of marijuana that doesn't generate a buzz but does help alleviate epileptic seizures.
His son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, held a hearing for parents whose children suffer from the condition and who said they declined to buy the marijuana illegally because they didn't want to be considered criminals.
Gaetz vowed to bring a bill forward, and his father was moved by the hearing, too.
"I'm studying the issue. I'm calling physicians and people in health care who I have a lot of respect for. I'm knocking on doors in my district, and I'm being polled by my son," Gaetz told reporters.
When Gaetz knocked on those doors in his Panhandle district "in a heavily Republican neighborhood … those who talked to me about the bill supported the bill," he said. "So we're looking at it."
Gaetz also is part of the cadre of Republicans hoping to keep the medical-marijuana amendment off the November general-election ballot — because, they argue, it could lead to marijuana prescribed for anything.
None of these people wants Crist back in Tallahassee.
This might be entertaining blood sport if it weren't so tear-jerking.
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