A history of Florida cannabis – George Scorsis says many factors stir the pot

The Sunshine State is in the spotlight with regard to marijuana. While the state did approve medical use of marijuana through a vote of the people brought forth by a citizen initiative in November 2016, there are no legal employment protections for workers who use medical marijuana. The gray area around the entire situation stems from the federal government’s Schedule 1 tag currently placed on marijuana, which ranks it among things like heroin and peyote as being of no medical use and with high potential for abuse.

“This is an interesting time in history where the public sentiment of marijuana as medicine is becoming more positive, but laws are not keeping up with the scientific evidence of marijuana’s merits,” said George Scorsis, executive director of Canadian company, WeedMD.

Taking a glance at the recent happenings including moves by the legislature to cap contributions to citizen initiatives as well as an attempt to raise the percentage of voters required to change the state constitution, it would almost seem that Florida would not have a very in-depth history with marijuana.

But that is a misconception. The truth is that there is a long history of marijuana happenings in the Sunshine State.

Historically, Florida has been a hot spot for the green wave. The eastern seaboard in general has seen marijuana on its shores since European settlers first arrived, according to a PBS timeline: “American production of hemp was encouraged by the government in the 17th century for the production of rope, sails, and clothing. (Marijuana is the mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves that comes from the hemp plant.) In 1619 the Virginia Assembly passed legislation requiring every farmer to grow hemp. Hemp was allowed to be exchanged as legal tender in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland.”

There was a “Hemp for Victory” campaign during World War II in which the government provided seeds to farmers and granted draft deferments to those who could grow hemp because the fiber was essential for the production of “marine cordage, parachutes, and other military necessities.”

Weed was coming into Florida by the boatloads by the end of the 1970s, but Florida was also becoming famous for its own homegrown marijuana. Gainesville Green became known as one of the finest strains of cannabis in the nation, according to Miami New Times reporting.  Bob Hope even cracked a joke about it at the 1979 Gator Growl: “Honestly, I just found out what Gainesville Green is. I didn’t know you smoked it. I was going to putt on it. Now I know what they mean by higher education.”

By the 1980s a sleepy little fishing village of  previously poverty-line fishermen had turned to a more lucrative cash crop called “square grouper” a.k.a. bales of marijuana. Everglades City, with a population of around 600 people, was suddenly swarmed by an armed convoy of over 200 drug agents and police who blockaded the only road in and out and began a major crackdown. Some of the mom-and-pop smuggling operators were hit with prison sentences exceeding four decades and smuggling arrests in the area climbed past 300. All of this earned the town the distinction of being called the most corrupt town in America with the most active drug port.

“It is now recognized as having been the headquarters of mom-and-pop smuggling operations that ferried more than 75 tons of marijuana a week from the mountains of Colombia into the 2,000 square miles of salt-water labyrinth known as the Ten Thousand Islands,” according to the Washington Post article.

Meanwhile the fishermen maintain that they were ultimately backed into a corner when fishing was shut down in the area that would become Everglades National Park. Fishing – a celebrated tradition for families in the area – was not putting food on the table. When the opportunity to catch “Square Grouper” came to the community, few people turned it down.

George Scorsis says these examples are just a small glimpse of the history of marijuana in Florida and in the nation.

“Marijuana is a medicine that has been used for myriad ailments for thousands of years by many cultures. It is baffling that people around the country are being prescribed marijuana as a medication and then fired from their jobs for using it,” George Scorsis said.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk landed SpaceX into a NASA safety review after smoking cannabis on a live-streamed Joe Rogan podcast. He has a strong opinion on marijuana, as discussed in a Business Insider article, and anticipated his Twitter post would get him into trouble: “Selling weed literally went from a major felony to essential business (open during a pandemic) in much of America & yet many are still in prison. Doesn’t make sense, isn’t right.”