By Tom Angell
Does the State of Florida care if you have marijuana in your system or not?
State prosecutors in the George Zimmerman murder trial tried and failed this week to prevent the defense from introducing evidence that Trayvon Martin had THC in his blood at the time of his death. Meanwhile, the State of Florida is busy trying to implement legislation passed in 2011 requiring that the urine of welfare recipients be meticulously examined to make sure it contains no metabolites of marijuana or other illegal drugs.
The drug testing law was intended to "stop allowing tax dollars for anybody to buy drugs with," according to State Representative Jimmie Smith, who sponsored the bill. State data, however, revealed that the program resulted in no monetary savings whatsoever for taxpayers. The ACLU sued, and a federal appeals court in February halted the program's enforcement. Gov. Rick Scott says he'll appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of his state.
In the Zimmerman case, on the other hand, the state's prosecutors are trying to do everything they can to argue that it is wholly irrelevant that Trayvon Martin had marijuana in his system when the incidents that led to his death occurred.
How can the state have it both ways? How can Florida argue, on the one hand, that it's unacceptable for Zimmerman's defense team to make the case that marijuana use may have altered Martin's mental state and contributed to the events that caused his death while on the other hand take the position that people who use marijuana can't be trusted to responsibly spend welfare benefits?
The inconsistency is jarring.
The State of Florida seems to recognize that the notion that marijuana use turned Trayvon Martin into a dangerous lunatic who needed to be shot is absurd. State officials should apply a little consistency and stop trying to defend their outrageous and discriminatory drug testing program.
The principle that I and most other drug reformers operate from is that no one deserves to be punished or discriminated against because of drug use that doesn't affect others. For example, I definitely don't want my airplane pilot to be stoned out of his gourd at the time of our scheduled takeoff, but I could not care any less if he took a couple bongs rips at home on his own time a couple of nights ago. Get behind the wheel of a car while you're high, and the cops should take you off the road. Want to toke up on your couch and watch a movie? Have at it, brother.
Whether you agree or disagree with welfare programs in general, if you call yourself a drug policy reformer you should probably at least oppose efforts to discriminate against people who happen to use illegal drugs but meet all the other requirements for eligibility.
If we can convince more people to judge fellow citizens by the content of their character and not by the cannabinoid content of their blood and urine, changing the overarching marijuana prohibition laws will be much easier.
Perhaps it's naive to hope that Florida's prosecutors will apply their newfound marijuana-use-doesn't-matter attitude in future cases where they could otherwise try to score points with judges and juries by highlighting drug test results showing that defendants were intoxicated at some point prior to allegedly committing the crimes they're being tried for. In any case, though, we'll at least be able to remind them of the time they said that prior marijuana use was irrelevant to determining what led to the events that caused a young man to tragically lose his life.