By Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
Floridians deserve to know the truth about a proposal to legalize medical marijuana. Here it is: Some people want voters to decide whether pot should be allowed for medical purposes, as prescribed by a doctor. Some don't.
Some of the state's most prominent leaders have lined up against a push to place medical marijuana on the 2014 state ballot. They argue the ballot language is deceptive, hiding the scope and permissiveness of the constitutional amendment. They demand it be kept off the ballot.
This is hardly a complex question. Floridians should be allowed to vote on the initiative next November.
Floridians are quite capable of understanding what legislation called Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions is all about. And they're up to the task of deciding for themselves whether loved ones suffering from Parkinson's, cancer and other debilitating diseases should be allowed to use marijuana. The drug is known to ameliorate pain, nausea and other agonizing conditions.
Twenty states, along with the District of Columbia, allow medical marijuana. And while the drug remains banned by federal law, federal authorities have signaled a move a way from personal-use prosecutions. Still, in Florida, lawmakers refuse to discuss the issue.
As a result, proponents have launched a citizen's petition drive to let everyday Floridians be heard.
People United for Medical Marijuana, the group advocating for the state constitutional amendment, wants to make it legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical reasons. So far, 300,000 Floridians have signed a petition to place the measure on the next ballot, of the nearly 684,000 required by law. To be adopted, the proposed amendment would need to be approved by 60 percent of state voters, a high threshold meant to clearly signal the people's will.
The intention of the proposed amendment is spelled out in a 75-word summary, which has been submitted for automatic review by the state's highest court. It begins with these words: Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician.
The amendment also ensures caregivers may assist patients in the use of medical marijuana without fear of arrest; directs the Department of Health to register and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, and issue medical ID cards; and clarifies that it does not authorize non-medical use, possession or production of pot.
The proposal includes several medical conditions under the term "debilitating medical conditions," including cancer, glaucoma and Parkinson's.
Phooey, says Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi contends the amendment title and summary — which would go on the ballot as-is if approved by the Florida Supreme Court — are misleading, and has requested a ruling. She also argues the amendment does not clearly state that federal law still bans marijuana.
Should the state's high court side with the attorney general, it would mean the end of the campaign for the 2014 ballot.
Should the amendment end up before voters, however, and pass as polls show it might, Bondi warned the court, "Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations." That's because, she says, provisions permit any physician to approve marijuana for any reason, and as long as the physician believes the drug's benefits likely outweigh the risks, "Florida would be powerless to stop it."
Bondi is spot-on about at least one thing: The amendment does allow physicians to determine which patients would benefit from marijuana, and which should be issued medical marijuana ID cards. Why Bondi does not trust doctors, licensed by the state, to make those calls is not clear. After all, doctors make such decisions daily, prescribing drugs far more powerful, dangerous and addictive than pot.
Nonetheless, Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, have filed similar opposing briefs with the court.
Bondi and company are not wrong to call for keeping a close eye on medical marijuana distribution. One need look no further than the pill-mill clinics for evidence that the medical profession has some bad actors. Still, it's unfair to paint the entire medical profession with such a negative broad brush.
Meanwhile, to date, state lawmakers have punted on the entire issue. Last session, bills legalizing medical marijuana under strict conditions died in committees.
Pushing to kill this sensible and compassionate amendment over word choice only serves to harm those who could benefit from medical marijuana most.
The Florida Supreme Court should approve the amendment and allow Floridians to vote on whether doctors should be able to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes.
What's so hard about that?
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