- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

August 26

The Gainesville (Florida) Sun on allowing pot research:

With legalization initiatives spreading, voters need accurate information on the health effects of marijuana. But cannabis research is thin, thanks to onerous federal restrictions.

That must change. A scientifically rigorous understanding of marijuana’s impacts and potential is necessary in order to set clear and wise public policies. This is a substance, after all, that has major implications for society, from medicine to criminal justice.

Government should be encouraging such research, not stifling it. But, as a recent New York Times article explained, scientists face numerous hurdles when they attempt to conduct studies on marijuana.

It is officially classified as a Schedule I drug, the category reserved for substances considered to have a high potential for abuse and no demonstrated medical value.

Scientists who want to legally do research on marijuana must undergo a three-layer permitting process involving multiple federal agencies. The marijuana must come exclusively from the University of Mississippi’s farm - the sole source allowed to grow it.

These time-consuming restrictions discourage the very thing that is needed: diverse, accurate, objective science on a subject of great public interest.

The University of Florida has avoided marijuana studies due to these regulations and fears that such research would threaten federal funding, as The Sun reported earlier this month. Staff at UF agricultural extension offices are under standing orders not to even talk about growing medical marijuana.

Studying marijuana much more rigorously would help clarify its potential effects - good or bad. The shortage of science on the issue leaves the field dominated by fallible anecdotal reports and bias.

The next logical step would be to cut the red-tape riddled permitting process for research.

The goal should be to accelerate the science - not thwart it.




August 27

Pensacola (Florida) News Journal on faith in elections:

Now that the lackluster primary is out of the way, Florida is officially on its way to the November elections. Everything is in place for Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist to stage one of the most bitter gubernatorial fights in state history. Brace yourselves.

But hey, this is Florida. We’ve never suffered from a shortage of chaos at the ballot box. At least the issue of Florida’s contested redistricting maps has finally come to some sort of a resolution - for now anyways.

After his summer ruling that Florida’s congressional maps were illegally drawn in 2010, Tallahassee Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis has accepted the Legislature’s reworked maps but ruled that the districts don’t have to go into effect until the 2016 election. A special election is simply “not a viable option,” Lewis said.

It may be the only reasonable course, but it’s disappointing, nonetheless. If these are illegally drawn districts, does that not render Florida’s upcoming election - at least in part - illegal?

To be fair, the busted districts in the 2010 maps were nothing new. The district held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, especially, has been an absurdity of gerrymandering for years, snaking through counties from North to Central Florida in order to group minority voters together. It only takes a glance at the redrawn map to see that very little has changed with the sprawling district, at least geographically. In defiance of the Fair Districts amendment, there’s nothing “compact” about it.

The groups led by the League of Women Voters have pledged to appeal. Meanwhile, Lewis’ ruling bluntly states that, “The Legislature is not required … to produce a map that the Plaintiffs, or I, or anyone else might prefer. The Legislature is only required to produce a map that meets the requirements of the Constitution.”

But it’s hard not to be disappointed in the system. The spirit of Florida’s Fair Districts law is simple - fairness; to see that the game is not rigged from the start. But with all the secret meetings and partisan gamesmanship that was revealed since the beginning of this process, do any right-minded Floridians feel like things aren’t rigged? Do voters of any party in this state truly hold a basic faith in the system?

It is an intangible duty of all elected officials to prove and reassure the citizens of that faith. Here’s hoping they become more mindful of that duty by 2016.




August 23

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on no surprises on higher education:

Two recent events highlight the political mess Tallahassee has made of Florida’s higher education system.

In Polk County last weekend, Florida Polytechnic celebrated its grand opening, with Gov. Rick Scott and other notables on hand for the festivities.

More somber observers would find little to celebrate about launching a 12th public university while the state still struggles to adequately support 11.

In Tallahassee, Florida State University has gone nearly six months without a president and, as the Tribune’s James Rosica reports, students and alumni are expressing their fury about the situation on a website developed to take comments on the search.

Both situations are the direct result of the state showing more concern for political influence than academic excellence.

The state had no business establishing Florida Polytechnic as a separate university, which it did two years ago even as it slashed the state university system budget by $300 million.

Polytechnic was being developed as a branch of the University of South Florida. But former Polk Sen. JD Alexander was upset that USF did not bestow enough programs on his pet project and orchestrated its abrupt independence. This resulted in the creation of a new university without faculty or accreditation. It also ignored the wishes of students attending the branch campus.

Now 500 students, attracted by the desperate offer of free tuition, will begin classes next week at the unaccredited university in Polytechnic’s showy structure at Interstate-4 and the Polk Parkway.

Florida Polytechnic may eventually go on to become a prestigious academic institution - though the other state universities, including nearby USF, hardly lack for accomplished STEM programs. But the timing and means of its creation were grossly irresponsible.



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