Legalization for marijuana advocates Spread the Seed

Spinnaker

A petition requiring 1,442 John Hancocks is all Jacksonville Beach citizens need to take a step toward being Florida’s first city to decriminalize marijuana.

Now, an underground movement is working to speed up and spread out this process all over the nation.

An effort called Spread the Seed encourages the unlimited distribution of cannabis seeds on public and private land. The proliferation of weed plants would make it expensive and difficult for authorities to enforce prohibition, thus speeding up the legalization of cannabis.

Almost every week without fail, at least one UNF student is caught with giggle grass, as more young adults are seeing past their parents’ ‘Reefer Madness’-like views of cannabis. It is even considered a rite of passage for many college students, said Ford Banister, president of Jacksonville’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a non-profit lobbyist group since 1972.

“How are you going to regulate something that grows like a weed in your backyard?” Banister said.

Also known as the Johnny Weedseed Project, Operation Overgrown or Harry Hempseed, Ryan Tinney, the president of NORML and sophomore English major, is skeptical of the effects of Spread the Seed.

NORML isn’t pushing to completely legalize marijuana across the board, but to regulate it, similarly to alcohol, Tinney said. Personally, he doesn’t agree with cannabis use for those under 18 years of age. Rose Slater, intervention and HIV counselor for UNF Health Promotions, remembered movements similar to Spread the Seed from her college years.

“I don’t think the presence of more plants is going to spur any legislation for marijuana decriminalization,” Slater said.

UNF student-offenders are often referred to her office for free and confidential counseling, which is also available to all students.

“I’ve heard people talk about [Spread the Seed] in my life,” Banister said, mentioning a specific occurrence in Georgia.

However, he said he can’t encourage or endorse it.

After Banister founded Jacksonville’s NORML chapter in 2008, a legal committee was formed, including members of Jacksonville’s Office of the Public Defender, the Florida Bar and a few law students.

Then a petition was created, requiring 1,442 signatures for a marijuana reform amendment to be put on Jacksonville Beach’s election ballot for Nov. 2010. The deadline for the petition is May 6, and the signature collection is on time so far, Banister said.

This proposed amendment would reduce greenage possession, of 20 grams or less, from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction requiring a $100 fine. Florida state law requires up to a year behind bars and $1,000 in fines for those in possession with that amount of pot.

Under the new amendment, police officers would have the option to enforce either the state or city law. The amendment is required to have a simple majority vote to pass.

Banister considers more societal harm to come from prohibition of marijuana rather than actual drug use, listing examples from students losing scholarships over a bag of Maui Wowie, to deaths caused by police drug stings gone awry.

“Marijuana is infinitely safer than alcohol in every single possible way,” Banister said.

His reasons included the inability to overdose on Mary Jane, the disassociation of the drug with violent behavior and the debate of whether bud dependence even exists.

“A lot of students think [marijuana use] must be safe if everyone is doing it,” Slater said.

Unexpected research suggesting marijuana may protect the brain from some damage caused by binge drinking was released in a study by the Neurotoxicology and Teratology journal in July, including researchers from University of California San Diego.

However, the eradication of cannabis on public lands has increased since 2004, according to a written assessment in 2008 by the National Drug Intelligence Center.

UNF’s NORML was founded Apr. 20, 2006 and has about 25 students involved. Members initiated a protest outside of Jacksonville Beach’s City Hall in April concerning the overall prohibition of marijuana and were joined by Jacksonville’s NORML chapter, members of UNF’s College Democrats and Ospreys for Peace.

“I want to encourage the student body to think with an open mind about marijuana regulation in general,” Tinney said.