Medicinal pot push gets 700K signatures, needs court OK

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauJanuary 25, 2014 

The Florida Divisions of Elections on Friday confirmed that the proposed constitutional amendment to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes has enough valid signatures to make it to the ballot.

The only remaining hurdle: approval of the ballot language by the Florida Supreme Court.

The number of signatures validated: 710,508. The number needed by the Feb. 1 deadline: 683,149.

"This is an amazing feat,'' said Ben Pollara, of United for Care, the organization working to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot. "I have to admit, less than a year ago I never thought we'd see this day -- but thanks to your support and hard work, we were able to make history together. ... The only thing holding up official certification and placement on the ballot is the ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, which could come any time between now and April 1."

The petition drive got heavy financial backing from Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan. He contributed more than $2.5 million to the initiative effort, much of it in the final weeks as the group hired hundreds of petition gatherers to collect the signatures needed in time to have them verified by the

Feb. 1 deadline.

Under state law, the group needs 683,149 valid signatures, and must have its language approved by the Florida Supreme Court in order to make it to the ballot. Constitutional amendments require approval by 60 percent of voters.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have all argued to the court that the justices should reject the language as misleading.

Gov. Rick Scott opposes the amendment. Libertarian opponent Adrian Wyllie supports it as do Scott's Democratic opponents: former state Sen. Nan Rich and former Gov. Charlie Crist, who works for Morgan.

The proposed amendment would allow people to buy marijuana at state-regulated dispensaries if they obtain written permission from a doctor who attests that they need it for medical reasons. The amendment prohibits people from growing their own marijuana and allows the Legislature to shape the details of the enforcement provisions.

Recent polls indicate that voter support for the measure is so strong -- throughout the state and from all political and demographic groups -- that it would pass if the vote were today.

Even if the amendment passed, making Florida the 21st state to legalize marijuana for medical use, the drug remains illegal under federal law.

The shift in attitude is changing opinions in the Florida Legislature. Legislators in the House have proposed a bill to allow for the decriminalization of a strain of marijuana that is low in the psychoactive properties, THC, and high in properties that help to control seizures. One strain, Charlotte's Web, is considered medically promising for children who suffer from severe seizures.

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