Florida recently became the only southern state to put legalizing marijuana for medical use on the 2014 ballot. The state legislature’s decision to include it comes on the heels of recent changes in the legal status of marijuana possession in states across the country. In 2012, Colorado and Washington passed measures allowing, regulating and taxing marijuana for recreational use. In addition, Alaska already has an initiative on the 2014 ballot, and Oregon appears poised to do the same.
Proponents of marijuana legalization point to a number of benefits, including the drug’s ability to help people deal with chronic pain and illness, lessening the burden on the criminal justice system and boosting tax revenue to state and local governments. Although Florida’s ballot measure focuses on medical use, passage could be the first step toward broad decriminalization statewide in the years to come.
Aside from the two U.S. states that currently allow, regulate and tax recreational marijuana use, 18 states make it legal to use the drug in a medical capacity. Not one of these states is in the south, an area of the country with historically more conservative views on marijuana. However, according to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted in January, about 55 percent of those surveyed were in favor of some form of marijuana legalization.
Depending on how citizens vote in November, medical marijuana may be much more available and affordable for people approved to use it. However, possession of marijuana for recreational use would still be illegal, and Florida has some fairly strict consequences for those convicted of drug offenses.