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January 31, 2014

Medical marijuana measure to go on ballot

Supreme Court gives nod to let voters decide

Live Oak —

Following a divided Florida Supreme Court 4-3 decision on Monday, Florida residents will be able to vote in November whether to allow legal marijuana for health-related reasons. The proposed constitutional amendment was headed by United for Care, an advocacy group led by Orlando attorney John Morgan. The judges ruled the language for the November ballot meets all legal requirements.

Justices R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, Barbara Pariente, and James Perry voted in favor. Justices Jorge Labarga, Chief Ricky Polston and Charles Canady dissented.

Florida could become one of the first Southern states to legalize use of marijuana for health-related reasons if 60 percent of the state’s population votes in favor.

In the opinion dated Jan. 27, 2014, it stated, “Our review of the proposed amendment is confined to two issues: (1) whether the proposed amendment itself satisfies the single-subject requirement of article XI, section 3, of the Florida Constitution; and (2) whether the ballot title and summary satisfy the requirements of section 101.161(1), Florida Statutes (2013.”

It further reads, “We conclude that the proposed amendment embraces a single subject, which is the medical use of marijuana, and therefore complies with article X1, section 3. We also conclude that the ballot title and summary comply with section 101.161(1) because they are not clearly and conclusively defective.”

According to the opinion, on Oct. 24, 2013, the attorney general petitioned the Supreme Court for an opinion as to the validity of a citizen initiative petition sponsored and circulated by the proponent.

United for Care was able to garner enough signatures on a petition to move the process on to the Supreme Court. The amendment, if passed, would allow the use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation and allow transactions to happen through state-regulated dispensaries.

The opinion stated the ballot title for the proposed amendment is “Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions,” and the ballot summary, which is limited by law to 75 words, reads as follows: “Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.”

The Supreme Court stated, “We conclude that the proposed amendment has a logical and natural oneness of purpose - namely, whether Floridians want a provision in the state constitution authorizing the medical use of marijuana, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, under Florida law.”

If the amendment passes, the opinion stated the Department of Health would perform regulatory oversight, which would not substantially alter its function or have a substantial impact on legislative functions or powers. The amendment would require the Department of Health or its successor agency to register and oversee providers, issue identification cards, and determine treatment amounts to ensure the “safe use of medical marijuana by qualifying patients.”

The opinion defines a “Debilitating Medical Condition” to mean:
cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said he would oppose the amendment.

"I have a great deal of empathy for people battling difficult diseases and I understand arguments in favor of this initiative,'' Scott said in a news release. "But, having seen the terrible effects of alcohol and drug abuse first-hand, I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path."

Suwannee County Sheriff Tony Cameron said he also opposes legalizing marijuana for medical uses.

“I am against it,” Cameron said. “I think it’s something we don’t need to have.”

Cameron said he believes legalizing marijuana will be a stepping stone to furthering drug abuse.

“It will be the gateway to drug abuse, for sure. It will lead to the use of other drugs. You can guarantee it’ll be abused,” Cameron said.

Live Oak Chief of Police Buddy Williams said he is against the proposed measure.

“I’m not for the legalization of any illegal substance,” Williams said. “In my opinion, there are remedies through other medications for relief, I just don’t see the need for it.” 

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