Medical marijuana headed to Florida ballot after Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision

Miami HeraldJanuary 27, 2014 

A Florida constitutional amendment calling for medical marijuana will be decided by Florida voters in November. MATTHEW STAVER / BLOOMBERG

A Florida constitutional amendment calling for medical marijuana will be decided by Florida voters in November now that the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the proposed initiative and ballot summary aren't misleading.

"Voters are given fair notice as to the chief purpose and scope of the proposed amendment, which is to allow a restricted use of marijuana for certain ― debilitating medical conditions," the court said in a 4-3 ruling in which conservative justices and one moderate dissented.

"We conclude that the voters will not be affirmatively misled regarding the purpose of the proposed amendment because the ballot title and summary accurately convey the limited use of marijuana, as determined by a licensed Florida physician," the court ruled.

If the amendment passes — it takes 60 percent of the vote to do that in Florida —the state would become the 21st to decriminalize marijuana for medical use, though marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

A host of polls show Florida's measure would pass, with one survey showing support as high as 82 percent.

In issuing its ruling, the court rejected a host of arguments advanced by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, Florida’s Senate President Don Gaetz and conservative-leaning lobby groups based in the state Capitol.

The opponents claimed that voters would essentially be tricked into legalizing marijuana under the guise of helping sick people.

One of the most-conservative members of the court, Justice Ricky Polston, echoed the arguments of opponents — sure to be amplified on the campaign trail —in saying this proposal is designed to "hide the ball" from voters.

"The normal and common sense meaning of the words used in this initiative‘s ballot summary and title are significantly different than the normal and common sense meaning of the words used in the amendment‘s text,'' he wrote in a lengthy dissent in which fellow conservative, Charles Canady concurred.

The citizens' group that pushed for the proposal, People United for Medical Marijuana, said the opponents were twisting the words of the initiative and ballot summary. People United also pointed out that the Florida Legislature, led by Republicans, has repeatedly blocked medical-marijuana efforts from even getting a hearing in the state Capitol until recently.

But as poll after poll showed outsized and bipartisan support for medical marijuana in the nation and Florida, state lawmakers began giving more consideration to a limited medical cannabis proposal.

That limited proposal is aimed at a niche strain of marijuana that contains a low level of high-inducing THC and a stronger level of a substance called CBD that, parents and physicians say, helps prevent severe epileptic attacks, especially in children.

But that legislative proposal, which is being resisted by some Republican leaders, is far more limited in scope than the proposed constitutional amendment. The amendment targets nine specific "debilitating medical conditions."

Physicians could recommend marijuana for other ailments if, after conducting an examination, they determine cannabis would help patients more than it would hurt them.

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