Editorials

Bradenton Herald Editorial Board recommends rejection of Amendment 2 on medical marijuana

Medical marijuana has proven to be a godsend for some people suffering from debilitating conditions. On those humanitarian grounds, Amendment 2 holds great merit. Even opponents of the proposal -- including law enforcement officers -- admit to the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

But as a practical matter, the ballot language contains worrisome provisions that open the door to abuse. The ballot summary sounds innocent, but the wording is full of loopholes.

While the full text directs the state Department of Health to compose rules to implement the language, just how restrictive they would be is not only unknown but could be subject to court challenges. The text only requires "reasonable regulations."

What does that mean, and how will courts decide? This is all but certain to be litigated if approved by 60 percent of Florida voters in November.

The summary's opening statement unmasks a key flaw: "Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients' medical use of marijuana. ..."

The full amendment loosely defines a "personal caregiver" as someone at least 21 years old who holds a state-issued caregiver identification card. That person could serve up to five qualifying patients but would be prohibited from consuming marijuana. DOH would issue those identification cards.

Could convicted drug users and felons become caregivers? Or other unscrupulous people only posing as caregivers to gain access to pot?

We don't know.

The language defines a qualifying patient as "a person diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition," specifically citing HIV, AIDS, ALS and several others. But then it allows "other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

That allows physicians discretion in issuing a marijuana recommendation. Will DOH define debilitating more narrowly without causing litigation? Or could there be a sort of mission creep here whereby just about anything could be considered debilitating if the patient presents it as such?

We don't know.

Do Florida voters want to take a gamble on how all this turns out if the amendment is approved? We hope not. We need certainty.

Twenty-three states currently have legalized cannabis for medical purposes. Of those, voters in nine states approved either a ballot measure or a constitutional amendment. In 14 states, legislatures constructed bills and wrote the rules.

With broad disagreement over the meaning and limitations of Florida's Amendment 2, the state should pursue the latter route. Our Legislature should take a hard look at the public opinion polls, which favor medical marijuana by an overwhelming margin, and follow the will of the people. This is something whose time has come.

Florida would be best served by thoughtful legislation that leaves nothing to chance, nothing open to interpretation and litigation.

Amendment 2 fails that litmus test. The Herald Editorial Board recommends a "no" vote.

Official ballot summary

"Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients' medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana."

Find the full text at bradenton.com/opinion

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