Justices Approve Marijuana Amendment 4-3
By BRANDON LARRABEE, The News Service of Florida // January 27, 2014
proposal will go before voters Nov. 4
BREAKING NEWS • TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – A narrowly divided Florida Supreme Court paved the way for state voters to decide whether doctors should be allowed to prescribe marijuana as a treatment for some conditions.
By a 4-3 margin, the court ruled that the summary of a constitutional amendment that voters will see at the polls isn’t deceptive, swatting away arguments from Attorney General Pam Bondi and legislative leaders that the proposal is actually far broader than the summary lets on.
“We conclude that the ballot title and summary fairly inform voters of the chief purpose of the amendment and will not mislead voters, who will be able to cast an intelligent and informed ballot as to whether they want a provision in the state constitution authorizing the medical use of marijuana, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, under Florida law,” the majority wrote in a joint opinion.
Joining the majority were Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, James E.C. Perry and Peggy Quince. Chief Justice Ricky Polston dissented, along with Justices Charles Canady and Jorge Labarga, who normally votes with the other four justices.
The battle largely turned on whether two phrases would give voters the wrong view of the amendment.
“I have a great deal of empathy for people battling difficult diseases and I understand arguments in favor of this initiative,” Scott said. “But, having seen the terrible affects of alcohol and drug abuse first-hand, I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path and I would personally vote against it.” – GOV. RICK SCOTT
First, while the ballot language says that people with “debilitating diseases” would be eligible to get pharmacological pot, the amendment would allow a doctor to prescribe marijuana to a patient with “a debilitating medical condition.”
Some opponents also argue that a section of the summary saying the amendment “does not authorize violations of federal law” might wrongly lead voters to believe that federal government allows marijuana use for medicinal purposes.
In a dissent, Chief Justice Ricky Polston said the ruling “will result in Floridians voting on a constitutional amendment in disguise.” He said the amendment would allow a far wider use of pot than the ballot suggests.
“For example, despite what the title and summary convey to voters, minor aches and pains, stress, insomnia, or fear of an upcoming flight could qualify for the medical use of marijuana under the text of the amendment,” Polston wrote. “This is seriously misleading.”
The ruling followed news Friday that People United for Medical Marijuana, the group pushing the amendment, had gathered enough signatures statewide and in the required 14 congressional districts to place the initiative on the ballot.
Democrats, who are expected to benefit from increased turnout of young and socially liberal voters, applauded the ruling.
“We need to quit devoting government resources to meddling in the lives of people who are suffering and focus our resources on making life better and more productive for the citizens of Florida,” said George Sheldon, a Democratic candidate for attorney general.
Republicans blasted the ruling.
“Make no mistake: this is not about compassionate medical marijuana,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “This is about the Coloradofication of Florida, where the end game is a pot shop on every street corner.”
In a statement issued by his office, Gov. Rick Scott took a more measured approach.
“I have a great deal of empathy for people battling difficult diseases and I understand arguments in favor of this initiative,” Scott said. “But, having seen the terrible affects of alcohol and drug abuse first-hand, I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path and I would personally vote against it.”
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ORIGINAL POST: January 25, 2014
Medical Marijuana Gets Signatures For Ballot
Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Medical marijuana proponents cleared a major hurdle Friday by surpassing the number of signatures required to make it on the November ballot.
But it’s still up in the air whether voters will get to choose if they want Florida to join 20 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing medical marijuana.
The Florida Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments about the ballot initiative last month, will have final say as it decides whether the proposal meets constitutional requirements and does not mislead voters.
With 710,508 validated signatures statewide — 27, 359 more than the required 683,149 — and reaching signature requirements in the bare minimum of 14 congressional districts, People United for Medical Marijuana beat a Feb. 1 deadline for submitting petitions to the state.
“We are absolutely thrilled about reaching the required number of signatures. This is a historic day for Florida. Hopefully, Floridians will not only get a chance to vote on medical marijuana this fall but will pass it and bring relief to the thousands of Floridians that are desperately asking for it,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, the group working for People United for Medical Marijuana.
JOHN MORGAN CONTRIBUTES $2.7 MILLION TO EFFORT
The push for the medical marijuana initiative is being led by Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist’s boss, Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan. Morgan and his law firm have contributed at least $2.7 million, including nearly $1 million in loans last month, to the effort.
But that’s just a drop in the bucket. Pollara estimates that, if the initiative makes it onto the ballot, the campaign could cost at least $10 million. Like all other constitutional proposals, the amendment would need at least 60 percent of the vote to pass.
Republicans as well as law enforcement and parts of the business community have lined up against the proposal. Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders oppose letting doctors prescribe pot, and Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawyer argued against the proposal before the high court last month.
Many of the justices’ questions focused on the difference between the ballot summary’s reference to “debilitating diseases,” which would appear before voters, and the amendment language which says doctors could write pot prescriptions for a “debilitating medical condition.”
SOLICITOR GENERAL REPRESENTS OPPONENTS
Solicitor General Allen Winsor, representing opponents, argued that the ballot title and summary that would appear on the ballot could deceive voters about the scope of the amendment. Winsor argued that the ballot language is misleading because it wrongly leads voters to believe that fewer people could get access to pot when doctors instead would have much more liberty to determine who qualifies.
But former House Speaker Jon Mills, a constitutional lawyer who authored the proposed amendment and argued on its behalf before the court, said the proposal was written to give doctors the ability to make the best decision for their patients.
Scott has repeatedly said he does not want to make pot legal because of the risks of abuse.
But on Friday, the governor toned down his message, saying he would defer to voters.
“I have a great deal of empathy for people battling difficult diseases and I understand arguments in favor of this initiative. But, having seen the terrible affects of alcohol and drug abuse first-hand, I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path and I would personally vote against it. No matter my personal beliefs, however, a ballot initiative would be up to the voters to decide,” Scott said in an e-mailed statement.
BONDI AWAITING RULING FROM SUPREME COURT
Jenn Meale, a spokeswoman for Bondi, said the attorney general’s office is waiting for a ruling from the Supreme Court on the ballot language and would refrain from commenting Friday.
Morgan insists he was inspired by his own family’s suffering. He said medical marijuana eased the excruciating pain and discomfort his father experienced as a result of emphysema and esophageal cancer.
But some critics have questioned Morgan’s true motives. Putting the pot question on the November ballot where his friend and fellow Democrat Crist might also appear may help the former governor. Polls have shown widespread support for the proposal, but the support is even higher among younger voters. Medical marijuana could help drive those voters, who might otherwise stay home in a non-presidential election, to the polls.
The strategy is similar to what Republicans used in previous years with proposals banning gay marriage, said Florida Atlantic University political science professor Kevin Wagner. Wagner said that could also be why Republicans like Bondi are fighting the initiative in court.
“It’s a political play in which neither side cares about who wins but what’s on the ballot,” Wagner said.