TALLAHASSEE -- Supporters of medical marijuana logged an important victory Thursday as the Florida Supreme Court approved a constitutional amendment legalizing the drug.
The court's support means the question can appear on the ballot during next November's presidential election -- if supporters gather enough petition signatures.
Justices' approval of constitutional amendments is limited to whether they address a single subject and whether ballot wording informs voters fairly. They also approved the language of a financial impact statement prepared by state economists, which found that any increased costs to government "cannot be determined."
But medical marijuana advocates still have work to do to make it on the ballot.
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United for Care, the group pushing the amendment, still needs to collect more than 280,000 signed petitions, according to the most recent data from the Secretary of State's office. And they need to hit a minimum threshold of support in another 11 of the state's 27 congressional districts.
"While we still must collect the required number of petitions before officially being placed on the 2016 ballot, we are confident that we will and that Florida voters will approve this amendment in the general election," United for Care director Ben Pollara said in a statement Thursday.
An important deadline to secure those petitions is fast approaching on Dec. 31. Local supervisors of elections have until Feb. 1 to verify that the signatures gathered were from registered voters. But state law gives them 30 days to approve or reject each signature, so there is no guarantee that petitions submitted to counties in January will be approved.
The campaign has 100,000 signatures in hand now that have not yet been submitted to supervisors and expects another 100,000 in the next few weeks, Pollara said. Still more signatures could be waiting in election offices awaiting verification.
The court's approval was expected. The justices cancelled oral arguments after Attorney General Pam Bondi decided not to oppose the amendment.
Still, Pollara said the details of the decision are promising. Similar language on the ballot in 2014 cleared the court with a 4-3 majority, but Thursday's decision was supported by all seven justices.
Floridians in 2014 supported medical marijuana with 57.6 percent of the vote, shy of the 60 percent required to pass a constitutional amendment.
United for Care has been bankrolled almost entirely by Orlando lawyer John Morgan. He has pumped $2.2 million into his pet cause this year alone, making him one of the largest political contributors in the state.