By Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
4:55 PM EDT, March 22, 2013
It is time for Florida to join 18 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, so long as proper safeguards are in place.
So it's good to see Orlando trial attorney John Morgan — of Morgan and Morgan "for the people" fame — promise to put his cash and clout behind a 2014 constitutional amendment drive that would let Florida voters decide whether to legalize medical marijuana.
If one recent poll is to be believed, the measure will pass handily. According to People United for Medical Marijuana, the campaign Morgan will lead, 73 percent of Florida voters say doctors should be allowed to prescribe marijuana for patients who might benefit from its use. Support crosses demographic and regional lines, including five of 10 Republican voters, the poll showed.
It's tough and expensive to put a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot. Organizers must collect 683,149 signatures from valid Florida voters within a short time frame. It can cost millions to hire petition gatherers and fund ad campaigns. But Morgan told the Miami Herald, "I can get the money. I have the money. I will be joined by people with money who will help."
Morgan's entry is a game-changer in Florida's sputtering medical marijuana movement.
But it shouldn't have to come to this. Better if the Florida Legislature were to pass a law that lets patients obtain small amounts of marijuana to relieve their pain, help them sleep or stimulate their appetite enough to want to eat.
To that end, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Sunrise, have filed the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, after the woman whose home was raided last month. The bill would allow qualifying patients — as certified by a physician — to grow their own pot or designate a caregiver to cultivate it on their behalf. It also would create a legal framework to regulate larger-scale growers and dispensaries, a key step in thwarting illegal activity.
"When you have someone roll into your office in a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis and look you in the eye and tell you that they have tried heavy prescription narcotic drugs and they don't work for them — and this drug does work for them — it's hard to look back at them and not try to help," Clemens told the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board.
Still, chances of passage are cigarette-thin. The legislation has been sent to four committees for review. "That many committees makes it very difficult," Clemens acknowledged.
Enter Morgan, who happens to employ former Gov. Charlie Crist, who used to call himself "the people's governor" and is believed to be preparing a gubernatorial run as a Democrat.
Politically speaking, voter turnout might benefit Democrats if the medical marijuana issue is on the ballot.
But that's not why the Republican-led Legislature should derail the constitutional amendment drive by instead passing a law that allows sick or dying people to smoke marijuana.
The legislature should legalize medical marijuana because it shouldn't be a crime for doctors to help desperately ill patients find relief, perhaps eat a meal, or find some rest.
It is the compassionate thing to do.
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