Good wins for medical marijuana, land conservation: both FL constitutional amendment proposals make ballot

January 29, 2014 

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

The will of the people will be heard come November when voters decide whether to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for patients with debilitating conditions. In a narrow 4-3 decision Monday, Florida's Supreme Court approved the ballot language -- rejecting the state's argument that the summary was misleading.

Medical marijuana petitions collected enough signatures to qualify for the election as did another important constitutional amendment -- one that would handcuff the Legislature from starving conservation land purchases from funding.

While the cannabis issue generated copious coverage, the amendment proposal to dedicate billions of dollars in documentary tax revenue to the purchase of environmentally sensitive land and protect wildlife and water resources did not.

But the future of Florida depends on conservation. Water is too precious and wildlife is under seige as developments encroach on their turf.

A good ruling on cannabis

The state's leading proponents of medical marijuana must be celebrating. Kathy and Robert Jordan of Parrish have been advocating the legalization of cannabis for maladies such as Kathy's amyotrophic lateral sclerosis for the past two decades. But the Legislature refused to listen to their pleas. Now the issue is no longer in the hands of tone-deaf politicians.

With poll after poll showing Florida voters approve of medical marijuana by well over the required amendment approval margin of 60 percent, this looks like a slam dunk.

One survey found as many asa 82 percent of voters favor this amendment, including a majority of conservatives.

Florida's leading Republicans -- Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz -- all argued the amendment proposal would open the door to cannabis prescritions for minor ailments, "where the end game is a pot shop on every street corner," in the extreme words of Weatherford.

But the Supreme Court spurned that reasoning with the majority writing the ballot summary provides "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."

Those limitations will not give the green light to legalizing recreational pot use as approved in Colorado and Washington state this year. This is about compassion for those whose medical conditions are not suitably eased by pharmaceuticals traditionally prescribed for cancer, multiple sclerosis and other grave diseases.

Fears about drug abuse are indeed worrisome, but the amendment proposal charges the Legislature with adopting regulations that should bar that possibility.

Should Floridians approve the November ballot issue, the state would become the first in the South and the 21st in the nation to legalize medical marijuana. The trend is clear. Cannabis has lost the demonization once embraced by a majority of Americans.

A wise conservation bid

Far less controversial but more important to the state's future is the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment.

The proposal does not require any new taxes but commits one third of the revenue generated from the documentary tax collected on real estate transations to conservation projects.

Tallahassee has slashed spending on state land purchases and water resource protection over the past few years, basically gutting the once vaunted Florida Forever program. Last year the governor's office and lawmakers went so far as to seek the sale of some state land. Wiser minds found support to rebuff those ill-advised recommendations.

Conservation groups from Audubon Florida and the Sierra Club championed the amendment proposal and met little opposition to the petition campaign.

If passed, the short-sighted power brokers in Tallahassee will be banned from robbing this significant conservation effort. The measure is expected to raise to place as much as $10 billion into land purchases over the next two decades, when it expires.

Since the political whims of the Legislature and governor's office cannot be trusted with vital conservation efforts, this amendment deserves passage.

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