Proponents are ramping up efforts to legalize cannabis for adult use in Florida—a state with a burgeoning medical cannabis industry. With this in mind, opponents are gearing up also. And lawmakers on a key state House committee Wednesday heard presentations on the dangers of adult use, a session that one industry lobbyist referred to as Reefer Madness.
The House Health Quality Subcommittee heard presentations on public health concerns, crime risks, and workplace drug testing.
Lawmakers first heard from Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, a professor at the University of Southern California and a senior economist for the RAND Corporation, on public health implications of adult use. Pacula argued that legal states have paid inadequate attention to regulation, particularly when dealing with edibles, and instead rushed to open up the market.
“State jurisdictions have thus far moved forward with regulation focused more so on the benefits than the harms,” Pacula said.
In particular, Pacula pointed to the dangers of edibles when not properly dosed or when poorly labeled, such as overconsumption. She urged the lawmakers to devote money to regulatory bodies and to slowly roll out the market, should voters approve of adult use. Pacula also worried that adult use would lead to increased dependence and psychosis.
Seeming to reference one of the state’s adult use campaigns—the ballot title for Sensible Florida’s proposed constitutional amendment is “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol”—Pacula said, “States cannot regulate cannabis like alcohol or tobacco. With those two products, they have a federal partner that’s engaged in regulation and engaged in compliance checks.”
Next, Barry Sample of Quest Diagnostics discussed “positive drug test results for cannabis in the workplace.”
Citing internal data, Sample described a growing number of positive test results across the country. He said even in legal states, many companies have been reluctant to stop testing for cannabis use.
He added, though, that there is no reliable way to test whether an employee used cannabis during working hours, noting that the “proverbial pothead” would likely test positive a few days longer than an infrequent user due to increased levels of THC from prolonged cannabis use.
The committee also heard from Ray Padilla, a US Drug Enforcement Administration officer in Denver. Padilla, drawing from data in the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Traffic Area Report, blamed Colorado’s adult use market for what he says is a spike in traffic deaths, a rise in emergency room visits for “psychotic breaks” and “freak-out incidents” from overconsumption, and even increased suicides.
“The rhetoric coming from the pro-marijuana lobbyists says, ‘Hey, this is good,’” Padilla said. “When now we’re starting to learn that a lot of it is not.”
Padilla also suggested adult use in Colorado led to increased robberies, home invasions, and homicides. “We have people from all over the nation that will come to Colorado to go rob people for their marijuana,” he said.
Democrats were clearly dismayed at what they viewed as an anti-legalization slant in the presentations. The committee’s ranking member, Richard Stark, asked if there would be a presentation in support of legalization. Chairwoman Colleen Burton replied that the information was “as impartial as can possibly be, given data.”
The lawmakers on this committee could oversee the rollout of an adult use industry should one of the two proposed constitutional amendments make it onto the ballot next November. But that’s far from guaranteed, as neither campaign—Sensible Florida or Make It Legal Florida—has secured enough petition signatures. And meanwhile, Floridians Against Recreational Marijuana formed in November to fight the legalization efforts.