Activists hoping for a marijuana law reform breakthrough in the South just got their wish. The Florida Supreme Court announced today that they have approved the ballot summary for the proposed constitutional amendment to legalize the medical use of cannabis in the Sunshine State.
This comes after the Secretary of State’s office announced Friday that the campaign turned in enough valid signatures for the amendment to be placed on the November election ballot. Supporters had until February 1 to turn in over 683,149 signatures from over half of Florida’s 27 congressional districts. The Florida Division of Elections reported over 710,000 signatures from 14 districts.
Medical marijuana is enormously popular in Florida. A Quinnipiac University poll from November showed 82% of Floridians would support medical marijuana, up from the 73.5% poll by St. Pete Polls in August. Florida law requires a 60% vote this November to put the medical marijuana initiative into the state constitution.
The ruling by the state Supreme Court is a severe blow to the Republican Attorney General, Pam Bondi, who had challenged the amendment in court on the grounds that its ballot summary was misleading. The summary just approved by the court reads:
"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."
Bondi argued that “debilitating diseases” in the summary was a narrower term than the qualifying “debilitating medical condition” in the amendment text that includes a California-like “other conditions” clause. The definition in the amendment reads:
“Debilitating Medical Condition” means cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."
The Florida Supreme Court decided that the purpose of the amendment -- allowing Floridians to use marijuana if their doctor approves -- was clear:
“The proposed amendment has a logical and natural oneness of purpose -- namely, whether Floridians want a provision in the state constitution authorizing the medical use of marijuana, as determined by a licensed Florida physician,” the four supporting justices wrote. “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.” The three dissenting justices agreed with Bondi, writing, “Placing this initiative's title and summary on the ballot will result in Floridians voting on a constitutional amendment in disguise.”
Political observers in Florida have speculated that the medical marijuana amendment may be an electoral gift for Democrats. Orlando attorney John Morgan has bankrolled much of the amendment campaign and he is also the boss of Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who hopes to become governor again after losing his 2011 election to current Republican governor Rick Scott. A medical marijuana vote may bring out younger, more liberal voters to the polls, and Scott has very clearly indicated his opposition to medical marijuana, telling the Miami Herald he will vote against the amendment.
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