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Let’s all point and laugh at WFTV’s stupid marijuana story

November 5, 2013

Guys, do you know what November is? In the blow-dried teevee news biz, it’s sweeps month, that glorious time of year when stations jockey for ratings supremacy, usually by trying to scare the bejesus out of the suburban moms and senile octogenarians who still watch local television news.

WFTV-Channel 9’s first entry into this month’s “ARE YOUR CHILDREN IN DANGER???!?” sweepstakes of desperation comes courtesy of professional news reader Greg Warmoth, who traveled all the way to Venice Beach, Calif., to score some marijuana. (Of course, he could have just asked around the newsroom and saved himself the trouble—trust us, we’re in the industry, we know these things—but that would have made for dull television.)

The ostensible linchpin of this excursion is John Morgan’s medical marijuana initiative, which will likely go onto next year’s ballot and, if you believe the polls, probably pass rather easily. But Warmoth and company want you to know that such laws have UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES, because in Venice Beach you can go to the 420 Clinic and complain about insomnia (which, in Warmoth’s world, isn’t a legit medical condition) or shoulder pain (also not real?) and a nice doc will write you a prescription for some sticky-ass Hindu Kush, and WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?

Anyway, waste four minutes of your life watching this nonsense and join me on the flip side, won’t you?

“In California,” we’re told, “abuse of the law is rampant. And getting a license to purchase marijuana is easy, quite frankly, and that ease is what has at least one local politician concerned.” (That politician is some small town council member you’ve never heard of.)

Warmoth’s point, if you want to call it that, is that there are lots of pot clinics in California, and pot is pretty easy to come by, and this is bad. Warmoth illustrated this point by complaining about shoulder pain and scoring some marijuana himself, for journalism. And so what we must do, Warmoth and this local city council person tell us, to protect the children, is pass preemptive regulations to limit dispensaries for an amendment that has yet to pass or be codified by the state legislature.

It’s true that some cities in Southern California have started cracking down on dispensaries after the state Supreme Court ruled that they could enforce bans on pot clinics despite the ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana. Los Angeles voted to drastically slash its dispensaries, from something like 2,000 to as few as 135. Nine counties have moratoriums on new dispensaries.

Even as states like Colorado and Washington legalize marijuana — while it remains illegal under federal law — California is moving toward a patchwork of vast swaths where marijuana users won’t be able to walk into a store and legally buy weed.

Some in the industry say that will return it to the underground, where couriers and secret pot clubs will distribute buds within counties and cities that otherwise serve as No Stoned Zones, similar to the dry counties that sprang up across the U.S. after Prohibition was repealed.

The argument posited by Warmoth—and completely coincidentally, by Attorney General Pam Bondi in her challenge to the amendment’s ballot language—is that “if the amendment passes, ‘Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations.'”

This is not even remotely true, unless you assume that the Florida Legislature will somehow be taken over by the Cheech & Chong Fan Club between now and next year. Here’s what the amendment says:

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property or otherwise penalized for the cultivation, purchase, use or possession of marijuana in connection with the treatment of Alzheimer’s, cachexia, cancer, chronic pain, chronic nervous system disorders, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and other seizure disorders, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, diseases causing muscle spasticity, or other diseases and conditions when recommended by a physician [my emphasis].

It’s that last line that has Bondi’s knickers in a twist. (Her effort to knock the initiative off next year’s ballot, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it is expected to galvanize Democratic-leaning turnout. Don’t be silly.) Because theoretically, your doctor could recommend marijuana for just about anything—a headache, a sleepless night, ear wax, whatever—especially if your doctor was a quack. And if that’s where the ballot language stopped, the prohibitionists may have a point. But it doesn’t. Here’s the very next section:

The legislature, however, may provide by general law for the voluntary registration of persons intending to exercise their rights hereunder and for the regulation of the distribution and sale of marijuana to persons intending to exercise their rights hereunder.

In other words, the very conservative Florida Legislature will get to pass the laws regulating the sale of medical marijuana. Which means the very conservative Florida Legislature will likely get to decide what those “other diseases and conditions” are, and what hoops patients will have to jump through to get their pot. And thus it’s much more likely that Florida’s medical marijuana program will be more akin to New Jersey’s than California’s. In the more restrictive Garden State:
The law mandates the state to promulgate rules governing the distribution of medical cannabis to state-authorized patients. These rules shall address the creation of up to six state-licensed “alternative treatment centers.” Patients diagnosed with the following illnesses are afforded legal protection under this act: cancer, glaucoma, seizure and/or spasticity disorders (including epilepsy), Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, HIV/AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn’s disease), any terminal illness if a doctor has determined the patient will die within a year. Other conditions are subject to approval by the state Department of Health. Patients authorized to use marijuana under this act will not be permitted to cultivate their own cannabis, and are limited to the possession of two ounces of marijuana per month.

The idea that Florida will become a bonged-out free-for-all is the stuff of Pam Bondi’s fever dreams (and, um, local broadcast journalism). It presumes that access to marijuana isn’t already easy (so we’ve been told), and that the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes isn’t happening right now all over the state (according to sources). In fairness, Morgan’s amendment would explicitly allow for personal cultivation, whereas Jersey does not. But it is entirely within the Legislature’s hands to limit how many dispensaries exist and how much (or little) pot patients can possess.

Warmoth’s reggae-soundtracked (of course) report—which doesn’t interview anyone associated with Morgan’s amendment or analyze the difference between California law and the proposal in Florida, because doing so would require understanding actual policy and stuff, and that’s hard—presumes for the sake of presumption that restricted access to medical marijuana is a de facto positive, even though there is considerable empirical evidence (also unmentioned) that “the health costs per user of tobacco and alcohol are much higher than for cannabis. This may indicate that cannabis use involves fewer health risks than alcohol or tobacco.”

To review: Beer and smokes at the neighborhood 7-Eleven? Cool. Buying marijuana with a prescription at the neighborhood dispensary? TO THE FAINTING COUCH!

I learned long ago to not expect much in the way of critical thinking from local TV news, especially “exclusive” “investigations” during sweeps. But if we’re going to talk about the relative merits of this proposal, can we at least do it without the lowest-common-denominator scaremongering? Is that too much to ask? (Probably.) While we’re on the subject, could we also talk about the potential upsides of legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana—like the 25 percent recreational pot tax Colorado is voting on today—to fund our state’s decrepit public education system?

Won’t somebody actually think of the children?

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  • Shawn Cowing

    Greg Warmoth….the petite little man……..Shaq nut hugger………

  • Mary Jane

    Don’t know why they have to go all the way to California when Medical Marijuana has been legal in Colorado way before it was voted in to be legalized for recreational use! I brought back several copies of the Colorado Springs Independent a local news paper similar to the Orlando Weekly to show my doctors the advertisements for the MMJ Clinics in Colorado Springs. They don’t just sell smoke! They also offer patches for cancer patients, edibles & many other products! I don’t understand people, would they rather have a loved one addicted to hard core pharmaceuticals or MMJ which IS NOT ADDICTIVE & they can not die of an over dose from it! I say TIME TO LEGALIZE IT FLORIDA!

  • Hope Marie Bisbo-Becker

    you go Greg…it shows that our system is broken! But I agree just go outside you can buy it cheaper here then getting a plane ticket and traveling to california!