Florida’s pristine beaches, eclectic nightlife and balmy weather make it an ideal place to reside in (or in my case, escape to). Upon returning from my vacation to this unique state, it got me thinking: Where exactly could medical marijuana fit in, and why might it be so beneficial, particularly to this state? Florida is set to vote on the measure to legalize cannabis for medical purposes in November, 2014. Currently, both sides are making their cases to the public to get them to vote on the issue.

Let’s start by examining Florida’s population; According to the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the state has “the third largest population of veterans in the nation after California and Texas with more than 1.6 million veterans – 12 percent of the Sunshine State’s population 18 and over.” On top of that, Florida also has one of the highest senior citizen populations in the United States. Together, these two groups make up an incredibly large portion of Florida’s population that undoubtedly suffers from physical and emotional ailments, whether from combat or illness in old age. Currently, these two groups are being denied access to medical marijuana, forcing them to use prescription medications which often have adverse side effects. Some of these drugs include pain killers, benzos, and anti-depressants.

Because of this widespread use of pain killers, Florida leads the nation with prescription drug abuse. Pill-mills are rampant in the state and the ‘pain clinic’ scheme that consists of physicians being illegally paid for prescription pain medications has made headlines nationally. “Years of weak regulation, a lack of legislation and no prescription-drug-monitoring program — combined with doctors who liberally prescribe narcotics — helped make Florida the poster child for the prescription-drug epidemic.” Why should Florida continue to allow itself to bare this label?

Medical marijuana, a natural alternative to strong pain medications such as oxycodone, may be the key to combatting this problem in the state. According to this article published in 2011, “90 of the top 100 oxycodone-purchasing physicians in the nation last year were from Florida, according to federal records.” If medical marijuana is offered as an alternative to prescription drugs, physicians may begin prescribing it in place of pain killers; it is much safer and we would not see people overdosing like we do now. Of course the state also needs to increase its regulations regarding prescription pain killers; until that happens, we will continue to see abuse of the lax Florida laws.

If all of that was not reason enough, Florida would also see a boost in its economy. Every state that has legalized and appropriately taxed medical marijuana has done better financially. Thousands of new jobs would be created, and there is money that could be generated and applied back to the community, which would help relieve Florida’s notoriously ailing school system and social programs. And let’s not forget that there are currently people in Florida using medical marijuana, albeit illegally, that can (and do) get arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated, all on the state’s dime. Think of all the government spending costs that could be cut on an issue like MMJ, and instead applied to the state’s hard-hit areas. I’m really curious to see what voting day will bring – I sincerely hope we see the right choice made for the people of Florida.

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