BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis has joined the majority of sheriffs in Florida in opposing efforts to legalize medical marijuana.
“The legalization of marijuana will make this drug more readily available and easier to obtain by teens, as they would not need parental consent to get a ‘physician’s certification’ for marijuana,” Nienhuis said in a prepared statement.
“With no quality or dosage control, there is nothing in place to prevent these storefront marijuana dispensaries from selling to minors,” he said.
Nienhuis echoed his counterpart in Pasco County, Sheriff Nocco, who believes the medical marijuana referendum is a smokescreen. He said he doesn’t have a problem with legitimate uses for medical marijuana, such as Charlotte’s Web, the oil extract that is used to help those suffering from neurological or epileptic disorders.
“If the amendment was truly about and focused only on medicinal marijuana, like Charlotte’s Web, I would not oppose it,’’ Nocco said. “However, the real purpose of this amendment is for recreational marijuana to be legalized, which I oppose.”
The Florida Sheriff’s Association has vowed to mount a campaign to fight the measure.
Steve Zeledon, chairman of the Hernando County Democratic Executive Committee, said medicinal pot should be legal for humanitarian and economic reasons that would especially benefit Hernando County.
“It’s the elderly, the people who have really catastrophic illnesses who require the benefits of medical marijuana,” Zeledon said.
Also, legalizing medical pot would bring jobs to Hernando County, he said.
Zeledon said Sheriff Al Nienhuis, and other sheriffs in Florida seek to prevent the referendum from passing because they make money off incarcerating people arrested for possessing marijuana. In Hernando County, the sheriff’s office operates the Hernando County Jail.
“It’s in their economic interests to arrest more people and put them in jail,” he said.
Zeledon said he would eventually like to see marijuana legalized for recreational use and knows from experience that smoking pot is no less harmful than drinking alcohol. In some instances, it’s probably better, he said.
“My experience has been that people high on alcohol are abusive, rude and aggressive,” Zeledon said. “People who smoke marijuana are friendly, silly and hungry.”
Leading efforts to get the issue on the 2014 ballot is a group called United For Care, which said on its website that “doctors should have the freedom to recommend the treatment they deem appropriate for their patients — including medical marijuana.”
Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United For Care, took exception to the sheriff’s opposition.
“This is ironic, because the same organization just backed a very narrow strain of medical marijuana usable for epilepsy — so there is no dispute that marijuana is actually medicine,” Pollara said in a statement. “Apparently, they’re willing to turn their backs on all of the other patients who are in need.”
Backers obtained the necessary 683,189 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. Hernando County Elections Supervisor Shirley Anderson said final tabulations showed 13,742 petitions were turned into her office. Of those, 10,693 were considered valid. The others were disqualified due to lack of information or incorrect data or failing to register.
Ann-Gayl Ellis, public information officer for the Department of Health in Hernando County, said her agency is not issuing a view one way or another at this time on medical marijuana.
“We’re going to follow the law and not speculate on any future action,” Ellis said.