By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s official: Medical marijuana is coming to a Florida polling station near you.
In November, Florida voters will decide whether the Sunshine State will be the next laboratory of democracy to legalize medical marijuana.
This week the state Supreme Court narrowly signed off on a controversial proposed constitutional amendment allowing the medical use of pot. Now, if 60 percent of voters go for it, doctors could prescribe marijuana for patients with “certain medical conditions” and “debilitating diseases.”
The justices voted in favor, 4-3.
A pro-medical pot group, United for Care, also recently announced it has obtained the necessary number of petition signatures to ensure the amendment will appear on the November ballot.
“The Supervisors of Elections have validated enough of our submitted signatures to place us on the ballot in November — more than the 683,149 we needed and in the required number of congressional districts,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, in a website statement.
Not everyone will celebrate these latest developments.
In an email response to Watchdog.org, Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “The ruling leaves the issue of medical marijuana in the hands of Florida’s voters. I encourage every Floridian to read the full amendment in order to understand the impact it could have on Floridians.”
Bondi challenged the initiative, maintaining the amendment language was too broad and the ballot summary misleading.
“The proposal hides the fact that the amendment would make Florida one of the most lenient medical-marijuana states, allowing use for limitless ‘other conditions’ specified by any physician,” stated Bondi in her legal brief.
“With no ‘condition’ off limits, physicians could authorize marijuana for anything, any time, to anyone, of any age. But rather than tell voters of this extraordinary scope, the summary uses language to prey on voters’ understandable sympathies for Florida’s most vulnerable patients — those suffering debilitating diseases,” she said.
Chief Justice Ricky Polston agreed. In his dissenting opinion, Polston said Floridians will be voting on a “constitutional amendment in disguise.”
Polston maintains the normal and common sense meaning of the words used in the ballot summary are different than the meaning of the words in the full amendment’s text.
The Florida Medical Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association also oppose the legalization amendment.
According to a state financial impact study, as many as 450,000 Floridians could qualify for medical marijuana. Whether that will lead to a tax windfall for the state is uncertain.
State economists don’t know how exactly to place medical marijuana within Florida’s medical tax structure, which has many exemptions.
The Florida Department of Health expects to incur added annual costs of $1.1 million to regulate marijuana licenses, though applicant fees would likely offset much, if not all, of those regulatory costs. Additional costs to taxpayers have not been determined yet.
The proposed amendment would provide civil and criminal immunity for physicians prescribing legal weed.
Prominent Democratic donor and Florida mega-trial lawyer John Morgan chairs United for Care. Some political observers have speculated that by putting marijuana on the ballot, interested voters would be more likely to show up at the polls and proceed to vote for his employee, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.
Crist says he’ll vote for the amendment. Gov. Rick Scott supported Bondi’s effort to keep it off the ballot.
A Quinnipiac poll found Floridians overwhelmingly approve of adults using marijuana for medical reasons if prescribed by a doctor, 82-16. Floridians are divided, 48-46, on the legal possession of small amounts of pot for personal use.
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