TALAHASSEE, Fla. - There's a chance Florida voters will legalize recreational weed in 2020. Two initiatives to amend the state constitution continue to gather signatures to make the ballot.
On Tuesday morning, the House Health & Human Services Committee aimed to prepare for the possibility of such a change.
"We're all going to be asked by our constituents where are we on this," said Committee Chair Rep. Ray Rodrigues, (R-Estero). "We need to be equipped to take a position and articulate why we've taken that position."
For more than an hour, lawmakers tried to get up to speed on the risks of marijuana, inviting Dr. Bertha Madras, who teaches Psychobiology at Harvard, to speak.
She didn't pull any punches.
"Marijuana is not benign," Dr. Madras said. "It is not safe. It is addictive."
Dr. Madras cited data suggesting risks to highway safety are two times greater, under the influence of pot. Plus — longterm use, she said, has been linked to mental illness.
Advocates for further legalization of weed also attended the committee hearing. Melissa Villar, with the group NORML Tallahassee, called herself a recreational user and was unconcerned who knew.
"That is exactly why we're pushing for legalization," she said. "We need to not be afraid of being arrested for having cannabis."
Her group, NORML Tallahassee, was one of the sponsors of the two recreational marijuana ballot initiatives. She felt the best way to protect people from any potential harm was the legalization and regulation of the drug, much like alcohol.
"It's crucially important to get people out from the underground," Villar said. "Get it to legalized markets and get it out of the hands of teenagers."
Chair Rodrigues said to expect more meetings like Tuesday's the future, likely featuring those advocating recreational use.
To date, both ballot initiatives for recreational weed have yet to reach 100,000 valid signatures. They need more than 766,000 signatures by February to get on the ballot.
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