By Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
Forget the politicians, self-styled experts and pollsters.
Amendment 2 is about helping sick people.
The amendment would change the state constitution to legalize medical marijuana. It gives doctors a tool to help patients facing death or fighting to live another day. It allows the sickest patients to decide for themselves whether medical marijuana is right for them. And it gives the state ample room to regulate how marijuana dispensaries operate and to oversee who issues and receives a card identifying patients eligible to buy medical marijuana.
Amendment 2, placed on the Nov. 4 ballot by a grassroots initiative, is necessary to accomplish what Florida lawmakers have failed to do. It makes available to people dealing with cancer, ALS and other debilitating diseases a drug known to alleviate pain, encourage appetite and offer significant quality-of-life improvements.
For all of its benefits, Amendment 2 is a big step that must be taken thoughtfully. It is not perfect. There is room for abuse. There will be unintended consequences.
Formidable opponents of Amendment 2 include the Florida Sheriff's Association, the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Even Debbie Wasserman Schultz, an ardent Democrat and cancer survivor, opposes the amendment because she worries about abuse.
As written, Amendment 2 does not define all debilitating diseases that would allow a doctor to recommend that a patient receive medical marijuana. There is no age limit for patients. And the amendment allows patients to appoint a caregiver without medical experience to purchase marijuana on their behalf, opening the door for diversion to illicit use.
These issues lead opponents to say Amendment 2 is riddled with loopholes, will cause more problems and lead to legalized pot. These concerns cannot be dismissed out of hand. But the Legislature and local governments can close loopholes and address unforeseen problems that arise. Whether Florida should legalize recreational pot is a discussion for another day.
Florida, South Florida in particular, has learned the hard way that lives can be ruined or ended when drug laws fall short, as they did with prescription medications. In the end, we learned how to deal with pill mills. Rather than ban narcotics, lawmakers passed regulations and penalties that stemmed the flow of illegal prescriptions while protecting access for legitimate patients.
It is essential to apply that lesson and vigilance to medical marijuana, and it is encouraging that such safeguards are being applied to Charlotte's Web, the non-euphoric strain of marijuana the Legislature approved to help children with debilitating diseases.
Some people worry a constitutional amendment will put medical marijuana too deep into our law books, out of reach of regulation.
But medical marijuana needs to be in the constitution to prevent lawmakers from contradicting the amendment, for example by banning dispensaries. Constitutional status would not prevent lawmakers from passing reforms similar to those used to clean up pill mills. A law forbidding doctors to run dispensaries at their practices, for instance, could and should be passed.
Already Boca Raton, Coconut Creek and Boynton Beach are lining up to pass moratoriums against dispensaries as city leaders study impacts and possible rules.
Under Amendment 2, the Florida Department of Health would be responsible for regulation of medical pot. The department would, among other things, control patient identification cards, oversee treatment centers and determine reasonable amounts of marijuana for medical use.
Elected officials in Tallahassee failed to heed a growing public demand for medical marijuana. We are here because the public's hand was forced. Yet how we got here is not as important as where we have yet to go. That includes careful regulation, but more importantly it means quickly making available to suffering patients a treatment that we know works.
Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, has famously admitted he bought marijuana for a friend in pain in the 1980s. He bought it for a Methodist minister dying of cancer, when nothing else worked.
Think about that minister when you go to vote. Think about the up to 400,000 people the Florida Department of Health reports might benefit from treatment with medical marijuana. Think about the 783,000 registered voters who signed a petition to get Amendment 2 on the ballot — and the sick people they love.
Amendment 2 is not about fear of problems that might or might not happen. Voters should approve medical marijuana because it promises better, safer and more compassionate care.
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