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'Drugged driving' opponents take aim at pot amendment

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With the backdrop of December as Impaired Driving Prevention Month, marijuana opponents gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to talk about the dangers of drugged driving.

But the event also essentially kicked off a campaign to oppose a likely constitutional amendment for the 2016 ballot that would legalize medical marijuana in Florida.

A coalition of groups, which helped defeat a 2014 ballot proposal that would have legalized medical marijuana, will put up billboards across Florida warning people of the dangers of getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs, both legal and illegal.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said even as drunken driving is down nationwide, drugged driving has increased, especially in states that have legalized marijuana in some form.

"When you are hurt by an impaired driver, it doesn't matter whether it is alcohol or marijuana," Rouson said. "You are still hurt. We want to protect the safety of our roadways, of our children, and our families from the increase of this."

The 2014 ballot proposal to legalize medical marijuana fell just short of the 60 percent threshold needed for passage.

A similar measure is likely to be on the 2016 ballot, and lawmakers also are considering bills that could legalize medical marijuana for at least some patients.

"We will continue to do what we have done all along … to tell people that marijuana is a dangerous drug, a very harmful drug, has an impact on society,'' said Calvina Fay of the Drug Free America Foundation. "Impaired driving is one of those impacts. There will be other impacts that we'll talk about throughout the year."