Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Columns

House bans bongs, what are they smoking?


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As a former cocaine addict, Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, ought to know that no law will keep a user from his drug of choice.

Yet that’s the goal of the bill he sponsored and the House passed this week that bans retailers from selling bongs and pipes made of glass, stone, metal and acrylic.

Store owners say the bongs and pipes are for tobacco. The number of hookah bars selling flavored tobacco that have popped up across Florida in recent years suggests there’s some truth to that claim.

Still, many believe those who buy the colorful pipes and expensive hookahs are using them for pot.

Rouson maintains the state is doing drug users a favor by making the paraphernalia harder to get.

Apparently 111 other House members believe that nonsense, too. The bill passed 112-3. Only two Republicans and one Democrat had the sense to vote against HB 49.

First, weed is easy to come by even though the state and federal laws make it illegal.

Second, creative people can make a bong out of just about anything. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always rolling papers. Pot heads are not above the old-fashioned joint.

Third, the state already regulates bong and pipe sales. Former Gov. Charlie Crist signed a law in 2010 that allows only stores that make 75 percent of their income from tobacco-related sales to sell them.

If Rouson and those other 111 lawmakers really believe that banning bongs will do anything more than put head shops out of business, I want to know what the heck they’re smoking.

As much of the country moves toward sensible marijuana laws, Florida remains stuck in the dark ages.

Medical marijuana is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Two states – Oregon and Washington – have legalized weed for recreational use.

Earlier this month, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill, which Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to sign, that would allow the legal distribution of marijuana by doctors and nurses through academic medical centers.

Florida is simply ass backwards.

A majority of Americans favor legalizing weed and more than 70 percent of Floridians support medical marijuana.

They won’t get it, though, if the Legislature has anything to do with it.

Fortunately, we live in a democracy that lets citizens make laws, too.

Trial lawyer John Morgan, head of the Orlando-based Morgan & Morgan law firm, is leading a medical marijuana initiative he hopes to get on the 2014 ballot.

The proposal would allow patients with illnesses such as cancer and glaucoma to grow or buy marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. It has the support of 73 percent of Floridians across party, race and demographic lines, according to a recent poll.

Morgan told the Palm Beach Post that it will cost $3 million to $3.5 million to gather the 683,149 signatures required to get the measure on the ballot. He believes he can do what People United for Medical Marijuana hasn’t been able to.

The group tried unsuccessfully in 2009 to get enough signatures for a ballot question.

“I know how to raise money. I know how to move people,” Morgan said. “And I have the ability … that they may not have had in the past.”

The issue is personal for Morgan whose father suffered from esophageal cancer and emphysema. Weed eased his symptoms.

“His pain was relieved. His anxiety was relieved. He was able to enjoy, as much as you can, a serene life without nausea and was able to eat meals in his final days. This is an issue of compassion,” Morgan said.

“There’s no doubt it works. So the question is are we going to let this herb, this plant that’s put into nature by God, to be used when we need it the most or are we going to deny it?”

Florida lawmakers would deny it.

“I think,” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, “it’s kind of insane, really.”

This is Tallahassee. Medical marijuana is insane. A bong ban is wise policy.

Hopefully, voters next year will show lawmakers the smart way forward on marijuana.


Rhonda Swan is an editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post and author of Dancing to the Rhythm of My Soul: A Sister’s Guide for Transforming Madness into Gladness. She can be reached at rswan@floridavoices.com.

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