While on WJCT’s First Coast Connect,then-candidate Mike Williams could have been mistaken for a young Sheriff John Rutherford: authority in his voice, confidence in his ability to lead the agency, exuding the ethos of a cop’s cop. He hit his pension reform talking points, spoke intelligently about the inner workings of the sheriff’s office, and he dug his feet deep into a stoic “tough on crime” stance.
“We have a violence problem in Jacksonville, and I can tell you from my 23 years of experience that the violence in Jacksonville is driven by the drug trade. We need a strong focus on the drug trade to get ahead of that violence, and it’s been a challenge for us for many years … the marijuana that people may be familiar with from the ’70s or ’80s is not the marijuana of today. And I think when you talk about violent crime and talk about the drug trade, what drives violence in the drug trade is the money. A pound of marijuana in 1970 that cost you $300, if you’re doing a drug deal with that marijuana back then, you don’t take a gun to that drug deal for $300. That pound of marijuana today could cost you $10,000, $15,000. You are taking a gun to that drug deal. And, unfortunately, a lot of those drug deals do go bad and result in violence spilling out into the street. So, I’m not for legalization of marijuana at all.”
(10 grand A POUND!? Mike, your dealer is taking the piss; you’re paying too much.)
State legislature by state legislature, the nation at large marches its way out of generational fear imbued by church-funded propaganda films like Reefer Madness. The children of the ’60s are passing laws to reflect a more level-headed approach toward marijuana, for medical and recreational purposes. The Institute of Medicine, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Academy of HIV Medicine, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Lymphoma Foundation of America, and numerous other research organizations advocate marijuana as an economical, effective treatment for several medical-related issues.
Where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use — to the shock and horror of right-wing interest groups — there have been no quarantined areas of mass congregations of orgies, homicides, and rape; people are still waking up every day to go to work, putting food on the table and functioning in much the same manner as before. There’s more money in taxes for education. A new sector of American business has been born (even those Wall Street guys are paying attention).
And there is already evidence to suggest that violent crime is dropping.
As the move for legalized medical and recreational marijuana picks up speed nationally, Florida is in the political fray. Flashback to November 2014, 58 percent of voters in Florida turned out to create a constitutional amendment allowing for medical marijuana, more than half a million more votes than any elected official in the state received. Unfortunately, the vote needed 60 percent in order to be adopted. The ballot is on its way to be packed again.
“We raised about $7 million in 2014. We spent $4.5 million to get onto the ballot, and the other $1.5 million on voter communication,” says Ben Pollara, campaign manager for the United for Care campaign run by People United for Medical Marijuana. “We were outspent by the anti-marijuana lobby. They also raised about $7 million, but they used their entire $7 million on voter communication. They swamped us on television and ran thousands of ads throughout the state. Barring some major disaster, we will be back on the ballot in 2016, and we’re pretty confident we’ll win based on the lessons we learned from the last campaign. Plus, there will be more people voting this year. This issue is rapidly picking up speed and getting more and more popular.”
Even in the face of letting proposed legislation die on the floor of the state Senate and the session ending three days early in the state House, medical marijuana still advanced this past week when Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins rejected a challenge to a proposed rule setting up the medical marijuana industry in Florida. Parents of children with a severe form of epilepsy pushed the legislature to approve low-grade THC cannabis (even Gov. Rick Scott was in favor of the bill!), believing its use can end or dramatically reduce life-threatening seizures. Patients could have access to long-awaited, non-euphoric pot products by the end of the year.
“This is an issue that touches everyone,” says Pollara. “Marijuana is a plant with extraordinary medical properties with the ability to impact a variety of different desires and medical conditions. There is a 99.9 percent chance that at some point in your life, you or a loved one might benefit from medical marijuana.”
Pollara sees a double-standard in state and federal drug policy.
“For most people, it’s outrageous; you can get a Xanax or Percocet, an addictive narcotic. The position that the state and medical board trusts are approving potentially lethal and addictive drugs, but can’t recommend marijuana’s use. Never in the history of human civilization has marijuana killed a human being. You can’t even say that about Advil.”
When asked if he thought marijuana should be classified with harder drugs, the Sheriff-elects’ response was a robotic, “Drug dealing is a criminal offense and fuels violent crime in our community,” Williams said via email. “It’s our sworn duty to enforce the laws.”