OK, so admittedly, that title was meant to feel absurd. Comparing marijuana to guns is like comparing apples to, well, guns. But for the sake of digesting the legislative logic of state and federal authorities, specifically in the state of Florida, it’s an important comparison to make. Because, if the right to own a gun somehow symbolizes “American Freedom,” what does the prohibition of cannabis symbolize?
Marijuana, or cannabis rather, is a living evolving organism that comes from nature. It does not the have the potential to kill or be used to kill another, nor is it protected by the United States Constitution. Guns, on the other hand, are man-made machines designed to kill. The right to own a gun is protected by the second amendment because our founders clearly saw they were a part of modern warfare, and therefore life on planet earth, and that citizens should have the right to defend themselves against a tyrannical government.
Both cannabis and guns are subject to federal prohibitions around the world. Cannabis has been prohibited in the United States since 1937. In recent years, as cannabis laws have loosened and it has become legally available in some states, buds have flown off the shelves and no one has died as a result. In 1994, after military-style assault weapons started becoming popular in the United States, former president Bill Clinton worked with Congress to institute an assault weapons ban, but not an outright gun ban. This prohibition on assault rifles, which expired in 2004, was not renewed. The notorious AR-15 has flooded store shelves and been used in a string of mass murders in schools since that time. Most recently, it was used to murder 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida.
The surviving students have since made headlines around the world, advocating for a renewed ban on assault-style weapons, more stringent background checks and raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21. They have been met with resistance from state and federal legislators with close ties to the NRA.
One week after the shooting, a busload of students from MSD traveled over 400 miles to the state capital in Tallahassee where they plead with legislators to consider their requests. The Florida State legislature declined to even debate their proposals and instead laid the blame for the massacre in a bizarre place.
“We met with the legislators in Tallahassee and we felt like we didn’t get far enough because they wouldn’t even discuss assault weapons there. What they did discuss was porn as a public health emergency,” David Hogg told Bill Maher on Real Time with Bill Maher in early March. Hogg is a 17-year-old survivor of the MSD massacre and now a public advocate for gun control.
If these children were dying of cancer, they would have a harder time getting cannabis in Florida than an assault rifle. So, for the sake of exposing the great hypocrisy of the Florida State Legislature, comparing gun regulation to marijuana regulation is an important debate to have. One has to ask, by prohibiting safe cannabis access, who are they saving? By not considering measures to heavily regulate or ban assault weapons, who are they saving?
Regulation vs. Prohibition
“If you want to sell something to an American, just tell him that he can’t have it,” Mark Westrom told the New York Times. Westrom is the former owner of Armalite, the original manufacturer of the AR-15.
Westrom was commenting on the steep rise of AR-15 sales around the country after Clinton’s ban expired. The ban became so steeped in cultural politics and red-blue rivalry, that many on the right started viewing ownership of the AR-15 as a display of conservative American values.
Chris Cereno, an Ohio firearms instructor and proud AR-15 owner told the New York Times, “It’s an icon. It’s a symbol of freedom. To me, it’s America’s rifle.”
Because of that identity now tied with this machine, any attempt at regulation is considered a cultural attack most legislators aren’t willing to make. One of the most common arguments used by legislators in Florida and around the United States is that banning these weapons won’t keep them out of the hands of criminals and therefore they should be available with little regulation. On the other hand, the United States spends over $50 billion a year preventing the unpreventable trade of illegal drugs. The prohibition this safe non-toxic plant has lasted so long specifically because the political left had embraced it.
Over the last four decades, the United States has spent over $1 trillion trying to keep illegal drugs off the streets. Clearly, there are more drugs than ever, yet no pro-gun legislator will make the argument that providing law enforcement more weapons and more money with the goal of eradicating drugs is just, if not more, pointless.
Florida, in particular, has spent significant time and resources preventing the safe access of cannabis to the chronic and terminally ill. They have produced and enacted a medical cannabis program that is more a corrupted moneygrab than a mechanism to provide safe access.
Still, it is hard to say what the effects of ending the prohibition on assault rifles are because “federal regulations prohibit the government from tracking guns.” As far as medical marijuana goes (not “recreational”), any U.S. citizen in a state where it is legal to use medically will likely have to give up their right to privacy and be placed on a registry to secure that right to medicine.
The Right to Medicine
Americans do not have the right to choose cannabis as a medicine, but they have the right to bear arms. In many states with medical marijuana, patients with life-threatening illnesses like epilepsy are required to exhaust more-deadly pharmaceutical options before they can even be allowed to try cannabis. In the state of Florida, a doctor does not have the right to recommend a patient use cannabis for pain or to replace dangerous and addictive opiate drugs.
In Florida, a doctor must have an established relationship with the recommending doctor before they can go on a registry and obtain medical cannabis. Once they have gone through those out of pocket costs, they must pay the state $75 for a medical card, which must be renewed annually. They must attach a passport-style photo at an additional personal expense of $15-$25. If the photo is not to appropriate standards, the whole application is rejected and the patient starts over. Once they receive the card and are placed on a registry, they now have the right to buy, but not grow, limited quantities of cannabis. There is a ban on raw cannabis flowers.
“A lot of the rules don’t sync up. You can’t argue one way for guns and then argue more restrictive for cannabis,” said Bill Monroe. Monroe is a Florida-based medical cannabis advocate, logistics engineer, U.S. Navy veteran, Republican and proud gun owner.
Monroe said his concealed-carry permit cost him $60, less than a medical marijuana card. It is good for five years. He also points out he is not on a registry for carrying the weapon, but he would be if he had a medical cannabis card.
“The state believes Florida citizens can’t be trusted with marijuana, but should be trusted with AKs,” Monroe points out. “The guns have caused more issues than cannabis, but yet we treat cannabis as if it is radioactive and we have to take all these protective measures, it doesn’t make sense.”
Monroe supports the Parkland students and believes the Florida Legislature should work on addressing their concerns, as well as addressing the concerns of the majority of Florida citizens who want safe legal access to cannabis.
Always About the Money
Monroe points to lobbyists and special interests as the reason for the gun-marijuana disparity in his state and around the country.
“The NRA is a powerful force in Florida,” he said.
So is the marijuana industry itself. Colorado and California firms had a heavy hand in the restrictive-style of legislation currently impeding the rights of Florida’s sick and suffering. Governor Rick Scott has actively worked with these forces to stand in the way of reasonable gun regulation as well as safe access to medical cannabis.
Monroe points out that, when it comes to the right to bear arms, the NRA is a powerful force, but are largely absent in protecting even their own members.
“Again, none of this makes sense. As much as the NRA likes to say ‘we are all for gun ownership and the second amendment,’ they are silent when it comes to someone with a medical marijuana card getting their guns taken away,” he said. “It’s ridiculous, if you are going to use a plant to help yourself you can’t legally carry a gun or rifle.”
As patients around the nation suffer needlessly under the strong arm of a law that aims to keep them free by arming them with guns but prohibiting them medicine, it is clear the only solution (beyond sensible gun control) would be to decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, and establish the right to choose medicinal plants for all American citizens in the Bill of Rights. Or, at the very least, regulate cannabis more like guns. Because, as long as it’s easier to get an AR-15 than an ounce of “AK-47,” no one in this nation is truly “free.”
TELL US, should cannabis be harder to acquire than guns?