View attachment 41182 TAMPA - On Nov. 4, voters will determine whether Florida becomes the 24th state and the first in the South to approve a comprehensive medical marijuana program. After failing to get the state Legislature to place the measure on the ballot, advocates for medical pot took to the streets, exceeding the 683,000 petition signatures needed to put the issue to voters and, if approved, write it into the Florida Constitution.
Early polls suggested strong voter support for medical marijuana — beyond the 60 percent required for passage — but the numbers have dwindled and the campaign has grown more polarized. Each side has a deep-pocketed donor keeping television ads and news releases cycling through the election. The issue is cast as a compassionate way to treat pain and suffering by one side, and by the other, as the opening of a Pandora’s box that cannot be controlled.
Advocates and opponents are parsing the language of the brief ballot summary that voters will see before coloring in the circle for “yes” or “no.” Here is a review of what’s behind those five sentences. “Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician.”
A key argument when the Florida Supreme Court contemplated the ballot proposal — the court reviews every constitutional amendment to ensure it covers a single subject and that the language is not misleading — was the contention that this first sentence is a ruse to permit much wider use.
In the full text of the amendment, spelling out in 1,600 words what would become Article X, Section 29 of the state constitution, a debilitating medical condition is defined as a series of diseases including cancer, positive HIV status, multiple sclerosis “or any other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”
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Ken Bell, a former state Supreme Court justice and opponent of Amendment 2, has a problem with that. When you look at the definition, it doesn’t talk about debilitating diseases, it says ‘debilitating medical condition.’ That’s confusing to the voter. When I think of a debilitating disease, I think of the ones that are listed. There’s a difference between a debilitating disease and a condition. I might have a sore shoulder due to arthritis. I may have a headache or some other condition that’s not a disease.”
Proponents insist the ballot summary is clear and straightforward, trotting out a decisive endorsement: The state Supreme Court ruled in January that the ballot title and summary “accurately convey to voters the chief purpose of the proposed amendment.”
“The Supreme Court has ruled on this issue,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, the pro-Amendment 2 group. “It’s pretty plainly in black and white in their ruling.”
The issue passed Supreme Court muster by a contentious 4-3 vote. “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,” Justice Ricky Polston wrote in a dissent.
As to the prospect of “pot doctors” recommending marijuana for a sore shoulder, stress or insomnia, John Morgan, the “For the People” trial lawyer financially backing Amendment 2, said there are bad actors in every profession. View attachment 41184 “Whenever you put money into anything, you’re going to have crooks,” he recently told members of the Tampa Rotary Club. “There’s crooked lawyers; there’s crooked cops; there’s crooked doctors. ... I trust doctors. If you don’t trust your doctor, vote against this. Allows caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana.”
Opponents of Amendment 2 find troubling a lack of specifics about who may assist patients in using marijuana. The full text of the summary defines a personal caregiver as someone at least 21 who has agreed to help, and it adds some other restrictions. “It doesn’t have to be the person providing daily care to the patient,” said Bell, the former justice. “You wonder why they made the amendment so broad. I haven’t seen a good explanation of that.”
Pollara, the medical marijuana advocate, notes that the state Department of Health, along with the Legislature, must establish legislation implementing the constitutional amendment. “This is another place where our opponents are going to take a logical leap to say that no further restrictions will be placed on this and the state will implement this law in an irresponsible manner,” Pollara said. “A lot of the potential users of medical marijuana are sick and dying and aren’t able to take care of themselves and rely on a caretaker to do it, whether it’s their spouse, a close friend, a son or daughter.”
“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.”
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In the spring legislative session, state lawmakers approved a single strain of noneuphoric marijuana called “Charlotte’s web” to treat epilepsy and other disorders. After a series of public meetings, the Department of Health drew up rules creating five distributorships statewide and establishing qualifications for applicants. Three nurseries already have filed legal challenges. Opponents of Amendment 2 say that demonstrates the difficulty the state will have in regulating the pot industry.
“There’s going to be a lot of jockeying, lobbying for this, lobbying for that,” said Madelyn Butler, a Tampa obstetrician-gynecologist and a representative of the Florida Medical Association, which opposes Amendment 2. “There’s a lot of money tied up in that. A lot of people are going to be making a lot of money.” Butler also said it would be difficult to establish what a “dose” might be. Are doctors to recommend how many puffs a patient should take, how many joints or servings of marijuana they need?
“We don’t know how it’s going to be written. But that legislation allows anybody who represents themselves as a physician to recommend medical marijuana, whatever that is.”
Pollara again refers to the role of the state Department of Health and Legislature in crafting the rules. “The language says ‘register and regulate,’ ” he said. “The only universe in which our opponents’ claims make any sense is in a universe in which you believe that lifelong public servants at the Department of Health are going to be criminally negligent in regulating this. Applies only to Florida law. Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.”
Bell said the last sentence — stating that the amendment “does not authorize violations of federal law” — is misleading. “Clearly it does,” he said. It remains a violation of federal law to even possess marijuana.
Pollara acknowledged the two sentences were included in the ballot language to address “constitutional politics.” But it also addresses nonmedical use. “A caregiver taking advantage of their caregiver position to sell the medical marijuana that they have received legally is breaking the law,” he said. “A doctor negligently issuing recommendations for medical marijuana is breaking the law.”
That doesn’t assuage opponents who say the measure opens the door to full-on recreational use for the Sunshine State, as was the case in Colorado and Washington. So far, these are the only two states to take this step among those where voters have legalized medical marijuana — a total of 24 states concentrated in the Northeast and West, plus the District of Columbia.
Only Florida has a medical marijuana measure on the ballot Nov. 4, but voters in Alaska, Oregon and D.C. will decide whether to follow Colorado and Washington and legalize recreational marijuana. “The people that wrote this amendment are smart people,” said Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for Florida’s Vote No on 2. “If they truly wanted to write an amendment that did not have loopholes big enough to drive a truck through, I believe they would have. The question is, was it intentionally written this broadly? It is a full-blown legalization of marijuana in Florida. It will not be confined only to those that are truly sick.”
Morgan, who while stumping for Amendment 2 has discussed how marijuana helped his dying father and paralyzed brother, dismisses this attack. “If I wanted to do that, that’s what I would have done,” he said. “This is an issue of compassion. Plain and simple.”
By Jerome B. Stockfisch - The Tampa Tribune/Oct. 19, 2014
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Backing of Florida Amendment 2 Medical Marijuana Vote Slipping, Latest Poll Indicates