This time, Florida’s vote on medical prescription of marijuana will be different.
At least, we hope so.
Amendment 2 on the November ballot, allowing physicians to prescribe marijuana when they think its medical benefits outweigh potential risks, almost passed in 2014. The proposal was placed on the ballot by a public petition campaign and got 57.6 percent of the vote, just shy of the three-fifths super-majority required for adoption.
The day after the election, Orlando attorney John Morgan announced he would run another signature campaign for a rematch in 2016. He amended the language a little bit, hoping to allay fears raised by some sheriffs and other sincere opponents, but the proposal – which again holds the No. 2 spot on the ballot – is essentially the same.
This paper endorsed the proposal two years ago, and we support it now. As a doctor must decide for a patient in prescribing pot, we think the potential benefits of the amendment outweigh its drawbacks.
Aside from a little tightening of wording, what’s different this time is that we’ll have a presidential election. That means more young people – who, statistically, are less frightened by the M-word – will be voting. There is also a U.S. Senate race, which will raise voter turnout well beyond what we saw in 2014.
And it’s not just collegians and young working Floridians. A lot of older people, who have seen friends suffer the side effects of chemotherapy or who have been through painful medical procedures themselves, will favor medical use of cannabis.
One hopeful sign for this new referendum is that the state didn’t oppose the petition when it was before the Florida Supreme Court. In 2014, Attorney General Pam Bondi and legislative leaders filed opposition briefs, urging the justices to keep the amendment off the ballot, but the court let it proceed to a vote.
They didn’t even bother fighting the new language in court, but there will be opposition – some sincere doubts, some scare tactics – amid all the other political advertising we’ll see next summer and fall.
At least 23 states, plus the District of Columbia and Guam, now allow doctors to prescribe marijuana. Four states have fully legalized the drug for recreational use, and legalization initiatives are on some big-state ballots next fall.
Supporters of Amendment 2 need to avoid any confusion in the minds of voters, any mistaken identification with all-out legalization. “Medicinal” use has been a farce in California and some other states or cities, where doctors hand out prescriptions to anyone claiming to have a headache or feel anxiety, and pseudo “counselors” do a lively commercial trade in pot.
Florida legislators have slowly, painfully, begun to catch up with the rest of the nation recently. About two years ago, they authorized use of a non-euphoric oil extract known as “Charlotte’s Web” for treatment of seizures, but lawsuits by would-be dispensers and bureaucratic regulatory considerations have slowed the process.
True, they can’t just rush into this. But we can’t help feeling that if one of the governor’s grandchildren needed Charlotte’s Web, the state would have had it out there a year ago.
There’s currently a “right to try” bill making its way in the Legislature, to let doctors prescribe full-strength marijuana for patients with a year to live, or less. Maybe it should be called the “can’t hurt” bill – if you’re facing death, up close, getting stoned probably isn’t your biggest worry.
The bills (SB 460 and HB 307) are pending on the House and Senate floor calendars. It’s encouraging that they are sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who are not what you might call flaming liberals on law-and-order issues. Gaetz cosponsored the Charlotte’s Web bill two years ago with Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, who’s also on the new right-to-try bill with him.
Some local governments have reduced possession of small amounts of marijuana to a written citation. There are also bills to just repeal the prohibition of marijuana, as Colorado, Alaska, Washington and Oregon have done, but those never get a serious hearing.
But there’s no denying that legislative attitudes toward pot are no longer stuck in the “Reefer Madness” era. And, as usual, the Legislature is probably several years behind the public on this topic.
That’s why we think – and hope – Amendment 2 on the ballot passes next November. And when it does, we hope implementing legislation won’t take as long as the first timid steps toward legitimate medical use of the drug have taken.