By Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
July 24, 2013
Make marijuana legal and accessible to Florida's seriously ill residents, such as those who suffer from cancer, Parkinson's disease and HIV.
Just don't make it available to the joker who wants to smoke a joint for giggles.
This is the crucial line in the sand — and the key selling point — behind a grassroots campaign for a state constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Nobody wants another California, where compassionate-yet-lax laws have made the popular drug available to virtually anyone who suffers from tennis elbow or a bad case of the sniffles.
By contrast, those seeking to place the issue on the 2014 Florida ballot have wisely settled on language that would keep the distribution power solely in the hands of licensed physicians, and the doors closed to those who seek only to get high.
Headed by Orlando attorney John Morgan, the drive is off to a solid start.
Earlier this month the Florida Division of Elections pre-approved the medical marijuana ballot language submitted by Morgan's group, which now needs more than 683,000 signatures from registered voters to reach the 2014 ballot.
It is a daunting proposition. But Morgan, whose firm is famous for its "for the people" message, promises to do whatever it takes to get the measure passed.
Key points include:
•Only physicians licensed by the state may issue "medical marijuana ID cards."
•Non-physician staff and other health professionals, such as psychologists and psychiatrists, would be banned from issuing cards.
•Physicians must attest in writing that patients suffer from a debilitating disease whose symptoms may be relieved by medical marijuana, such as cancer, Crohn's disease, ALS, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Patients aren't allowed to grow their own.
None of these provisions were included in a similar citizen's initiative drive that failed in 2009.
Under the current effort, the Department of Health would be responsible for registering and regulating medical centers that manufacture and distribute medical marijuana.
Fortunately, Florida can learn a lot from the 19 states that already have passed similar laws. Like Oregon, where patients can possess almost a pound of medical pot; or Maine, where patients may grow their own plants; or New Jersey, where a bill passed last month allows minors to use medical pot.
And then there is California, which sparked the national movement in 1996, but where cities today find themselves fed up with a proliferation of poorly regulated dispensaries that advertise and compete to draw in "patients." In June, Los Angeles voters passed a measure to cut the allowable number of shops to 135, down from more than 800.
It's too bad a citizens' petition drive is needed to allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to relieve pain or nausea, when Florida lawmakers could easily place the measure before voters. But for the past two years, members of the Florida Senate and House have refused to address it.
"We are going with the citizen initiative process because the Legislature is refusing to even have a hearing or vote," Morgan said. "There is no other choice."
According to a recent poll commissioned by the group, United for Care, up to 70 percent of Florida voters support a constitutional amendment that would make medical marijuana legal.
More telling, high approval rates cut across party and demographic lines, with Republican support hitting up to 56 percent.
Florida residents want to help severely ill people overcome pain or regain appetites ruined by chemotherapy or other harsh medical treatments.
The narrowly drawn initiative to legalize medical marijuana would do just that.
It deserves public support.
Copyright © 2013, South Florida Sun-Sentinel