Having had their say at last week’s meeting of the Pasco County legislative delegation, most of the Important People had quietly departed — no doubt to take on other Important Issues — when things started getting weird. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, if a little weirdness doesn’t help the world go ’round, then Seahawks’ bellowing cornerback Richard Sherman isn’t already the face of Super Bowl XLVIII, El-Oh-Bee! That said, there’s the spur-of-the-moment weirdness that comes from having a microphone shoved under your nose while being jacked up on passion, triumph and vindication — Sherman’s instant-classic ball-tip highlight put Seattle in its second NFL title game — and then there’s the kind of well-studied, purposeful and rehearsed brand of funk that was rolled out during the public comment phase. What was so important to these speakers that they endured close to three hours in Charles Rushe Middle School’s molded plastic chairs for a three-minute audience with state lawmakers? What issue of critical weight and urgency rendered them resolute and unmovable through pitches for training centers, services for the homeless, education reform, avoiding unfunded mandates, and so very, very much more?
No less than this: Legalized marijuana and the Equal Rights Amendment. Well, on behalf of those who hung on until custodians shut off the gymnasium lights, thank you for that fascinating time-warp detour to the Carter years. Happily, this time they came without disco and double-digit inflation ... although a certain sense of malaise was unmistakable. The first hint about a crack in the space-time continuum emerged when, accompanied by two colleagues bearing visual aids, Sandy Oestreich, founder and president of the National Equal Rights Alliance, thumped on the lectern a drawer containing a scroll bigger than a double roll of super-absorbent Bounty paper towels. On it were signatures of more than 10,000 Floridians supporting ratification of the ERA as the U.S. Constitution’s 28th Amendment, she said. Oestreich went on to extol the virtues of the ERA as something that not only produced immutable fairness, but produced economic booms wherever it was adopted. The latter claim was presented without footnotes, but never mind. Never mind, also, that the enacting legislation in 1972 included a 1979 deadline, and that even with an extension to 1982, the ERA was ratified by only 35 state legislatures (Florida was not among them), three shy of the two-thirds required. Five states subsequently rescinded their approvals, but those votes are constitutionally suspect; the U.S. Supreme Court has declared the rescissions moot, citing the lapsed deadline. (ERA backers say the deadline is moot, so, as we saw, they push on.) Economics also was on the minds of the fellows in jeans and plaid shirts who followed a few minutes later to argue the merits of marijuana being legalized, at least for medical purposes. Boosters say they have the signatures to get such a measure on the November ballot, but the Legislature has lodged a court challenge, calling the wording “disingenuous,” as House Speaker Will Weatherford said. Saying “cannabis is everywhere” already, one supporter urged legislators to relent, and instead embrace the likelihood of 50,000 new marijuana-related jobs. The other worried what might happen to the Florida real estate market if winter visitors accustomed to getting doctor-approved stashes back home can’t get refills here. (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say since that’s the way it is now, things would go on as they have.) Well, that was fun, as nostalgia almost always is, but after the pot guys were finished, I had trouble paying attention. Maybe if I’d brought a bag of cookies.