Relatively unknown as a candidate in the race to become Florida’s next Attorney General, Fort Lauderdale attorney Jim Lewis has announced he’s calling for Florida to take a step beyond simply decriminalizing marijuana for medical use, saying in press release Tuesday that he will seek the legalization of marijuana (in what is widely considered to be the state that ranks number one for highly potent, indoor-grown pot) should he be elected.
After announcing his candidacy last May, Lewis eventually dropped his longtime Republican party affiliation to run as an independent, following a career that included stints in the ’80s as assistant state’s attorney, special prosecutor for Gov. Bob Graham and assistant statewide prosecutor for the attorney general. He is also no stranger to running for office, having run unsuccessfully for mayor and city commissioner of Fort Lauderdale, Broward County circuit judge, public defender and state representative.
Lewis told The Florida Independent that in addition to the millions of dollars wasted on law enforcement, jailing and corrections associated with marijuana arrests, the state is losing out on what could be a huge financial boom, not to mention thousands of agricultural jobs, were lawmakers to simply legalize the plant for personal use and tax it like they do alcohol and tobacco:
The bottom line is over 25 million Americans use marijuana, and we’re wasting all these tax supported prison beds to lock these people up. About 20 percent of people in Florida prisons are there for drug possession alone, and a good number of them for marijuana possession. So I don’t think we need to cut in the doctors or anyone else in terms of making it for medical reasons only. I think we tax it like we do alcohol and cigarettes, and use it to put more cops on the street, pay our teachers and balance our budget.
A figure that a lot of people aren’t familiar with is that the Mexican drug cartels, their income, which is about $14 billion a year, 61 percent of that comes from marijuana. So if we were to lower the demand for illegal marijuana, then maybe they’d have less violence down there in that country. And for the drug dealers who make money here in this country, it will put a hurting on them. If someones going to make money, why shouldn’t it be the state?
He added that studies have shown marijuana isn’t physically addictive and there are no documented cases of people dying from marijuana abuse. “I think some of the people using drugs like Oxycontin are using them because marijuana is illegal, and I think we’d be saving some lives,” he said.
A report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission in July found that 5 percent of all deaths in 2009 were attributable to prescription drug use, far outnumbering those caused by illegal substances, and that Oxycodone, the generic version of the Purdue Pharma brand name prescription pain-killer OxyContin, was the cause of 1,185 state deaths in 2009, a 26-percent increase from the year before and a whopping 249-percent increase from 2005.
Lewis acknowledged announcing his position on such a high-profile issue at this stage in the race will be seen by some as politically opportunistic, but argues that he’s been shut out of the mainstream media for his lack of party affiliation and the fact that he’s not running a campaign on money from special interests, political PACs or 527s. He is in the process of fighting for inclusion in the one scheduled debate between A.G. candidates state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, and Republican Pam Bondi, a former assistant state attorney from Tampa.
“I think people are going to look past that his election cycle,” Lewis said. “They are looking for people with creative ideas who are qualified and have the character that they want. If this lets people know I’m willing to think outside the box, and take some bold moves to change things, then I’m all for it.