Editorial: Florida Supreme Court should approve wording of medical marijuana amendment

Supporters of medical marijuana have made a convincing argument that the Florida Supreme Court should allow a constitutional amendment on the November ballot so voters can decide the issue. During last week's oral arguments, the justices focused on whether voters would be misled by the title and ballot summary into thinking that access to medical marijuana is more limited than the full text of the amendment allows. The title and ballot summary of the amendment are not misleading, and justices should approve the wording and allow the amendment to go on the ballot.

The job of the Florida Supreme Court is not to decide whether an amendment is sound public policy. It is to ensure voters have a clear idea about what they will be voting on. Opponents of the medical marijuana amendment, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, legislative leaders and groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, argue that the amendment doesn't meet that test. They claim it violates both the single-subject rule and the requirement that the title and summary accurately describe the essence of the changes. Supporters say the amendment gives voters a clear choice without obfuscation or hidden agendas.

During oral arguments, the justices zeroed in on the opponents' best argument to reject the amendment. Does the amendment suffer a fatal flaw by broadly defining in the text a "debilitating medical condition" for which medical marijuana would be available, but then suggesting a more limited meaning in the title and summary? The definition in the text lists ailments such as cancer and Parkinson's disease but also includes this catchall: "or other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for the patient." Opponents argue that this is potentially limitless and could result in medical marijuana being recommended to a college student who suffers from test anxiety.

Jon Mills, the former state House speaker and the attorney representing People United for Medical Marijuana, has the better argument. When the amendment is read as a whole it does limit medical marijuana access to people with severe medical conditions. Patients would need a physician's certification to obtain medical marijuana. The amendment spells out that before providing the certification, a doctor must determine that a patient suffers from a debilitating medical condition and that the potential benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the health risks. Those are separate conclusions that have to be made independently. In addition, the amendment gives the state the power to issue regulations to clarify any confusion.

Even if the Supreme Court gives the amendment the green light, supporters will have to gather more than 600,000 signatures before a February deadline to get it on the ballot. At least 20 states have legalized medical marijuana in some form. Since the ballot language is clear enough, Florida voters should be given the opportunity to decide if they want to add this state to that list.


Copyright © 2013, Tampa Bay Times


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