Florida Supreme Court OKs medical marijuana measure for ballot

Miami HeraldJanuary 28, 2014 

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

Robert Jordan and Cathy Jordan of Parrish, who have been lobbying for the legalization of medicinal marijuana for two decades, were pleased the ruling could help finally remove the legal stigma attached to a drug that has long helped her deal with amyotrophic lateral sclerois, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"As it should be," Robert Jordan said. "I told my wife and she's extremely happy. It's something we've been working for for 20 years."

Jordan credited attorney John Morgan of the Tampa law firm Morgan & Morgan with supplying the economic oomph and legal credibility to help finally turn the tide toward legalization.

"He was late to the party but he brought the best gift," Jordan said of Morgan.

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.

"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.

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

Crist issued a terse two-sentence statement from St. Petersburg: "This is an issue of compassion, trusting doctors, and trusting the people of Florida. I will vote for it."

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 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 the Florida Legislature, led by Republicans, 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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