How Did That Happen?
People often wonder how Florida ended up with the most regressive cannabis laws in the United States.
While reform efforts were successful in 17 states, Florida's unique history impacted our progress.
Cannabis reform advocate Toni Latino wrote this comprehensive overview in 2002.
Florida's opinion makers and lawmakers have often made decisions regarding cannabis based on
fallacious and deceptive information. In an oft-quoted reference, the Bureau of Narcotics Chief Harry
Anslinger claimed, "In Florida, police found a youth staggering about in a human slaughterhouse. With
an ax he had killed his father, mother, two brothers, and a sister. He had no recollection of having
committed this multiple crime. Ordinarily a sane, rather quiet young man, he had become crazed from
The inflammatory articles written Anslinger most likely influenced Florida's Supreme Court when in 1937,
in Simpson v. State, the Court described the acute effects of the use of cannabis:
It appears that the narcotic or aphrodisiac qualities of the drug [cannabis sativa L.] were first discovered in India
from the variety known as Cannabis indica. The effect of the use of the drug depends largely upon the individual.
Among Asiatic peoples the dreams produced are usually of an erotic character but the principal effect is upon the
mind which seems to lose the power of directing and controlling its thoughts. Then follows errors of sense, false
convictions and the predominance of extravagant ideas where all sense of values seems to disappear. The addict
loses all sense of time, where a minute may seem a year and an hour only an instant…
The deleterious, even vicious, qualities of the drug render it highly dangerous to the mind and body upon which it
operates to destroy the will, causes one to lost [sic] the power of connected thought, producing imaginary
delectable situations and gradually weakening the physical powers.
Undocumented claims concerning cannabis continue to influence Florida lawmakers. The 1997 Drug
Free America Foundation brochure "Why Legalizing 'Medical' Marijuana is BAD For Florida" states:
Marijuana is a highly dangerous, psychoactive, addictive drug. Passing an amendment to legalize it for
'medical' use gives all Floridians, including children, felons and prison inmates, the constitutional right to
grow and smoke pot for virtually any ailment. Some amendments to legalize 'medical' marijuana such as
the one proposed in Florida give people the right to grow and sell pot to anyone with an ailment without
risk of criminal prosecution. In other words, drug dealing becomes legal.
This misinformation is officially adopted by the Florida Governor and Cabinet Resolution:
WHEREAS, our State is now aware of individuals and/or groups who are part of a well-organized, well-financed
national movement to legalize marijuana for alleged medical use and who may be targeting Florida for their
WHEREAS, research demonstrates that marijuana harms the brain, heart, lungs, and immune system, limits
learning, memory, perception, judgment, and impairs the ability to drive a motor vehicle. Marijuana smoke
typically contains over 400 carcinogenic compounds and may be addictive; and
WHEREAS, marijuana, as a Schedule I drug, has high potential for abuse and is a recognized gateway substance of
abuse that frequently leads to the abuse of other drugs, including cocaine and heroin. As such, there is no currently
accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; and
NOW, THEREFORE, be it resolved that the State of Florida and the Governor and the Cabinet stand united in
opposition to any activities or proposed legislation that are not consistent with established national and state
scheduling processes. This specifically includes marijuana and any other illegal drug for use in any purpose in this
The purpose of this paper is to track the many changes in Florida laws regarding cannabis; to review
some of Florida's judicial decisions interpreting those laws; and finally to identify the prominent
individuals and interest groups that endeavor to influence public policy regarding cannabis. It is hoped
that by providing an understanding of the history of cannabis laws and the influences behind them, we
will be able to successfully change them.