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Legislative Leaders Join Attorney General In Fight Against Medical Marijuana

Eric Broder Van Dyke/flickr

Legislative leaders are joining the fight against an effort to get a medical marijuana proposal on the ballot next year.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Destin, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, say they will file a brief with the Florida Supreme Court opposing the initiative.

Gaetz sent a memo to the Florida Senate saying he doesn’t think the proposal meets legal requirements.

“Regardless of the subject matter or whether we personally support the proposed petition initiative, ballot questions proposing amendments to our Constitution are held to a high standard,” Gaetz wrote. “Efforts to hide the ball or appeal to voters by using language that evokes emotional responses are not appropriate for ballot titles and summaries of proposed constitutional amendments.” 

The group People United for Medical Marijuana, led by Orlando attorney John Morgan, is collecting petition signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment. It would legalize medicinal marijuana for patients diagnosed with debilitating diseases by a Florida doctor.

The group has already obtained enough names to trigger a review by the Florida Supreme Court. If the Court approves the ballot language, PUMM will have to collect a total of 683,149 signatures to get the proposal on the ballot in November 2014.

In case you’re wondering, the number of required signatures is equal to eight percent of the votes cast in the last presidential election in Florida. So the number may change every four years.

Speaker Weatherford issued a statement saying the House isn’t fighting the merits of the amendment, but rather the description of the amendment that would be put before voters.

“We firmly believe the wording of this amendment is not about legalizing marijuana for serious medical illnesses, but rather creating a path in our constitution for marijuana shops on every street corner,” Weatherford said. “The ballot summary is misleading and the impact of this amendment is far, far greater than John Morgan and his supporters would like the public to know."

In late October, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the Florida Supreme Court to block a vote on the proposed amendment because the language is misleading.

Bondi gave three main reasons:

  • The ballot title and summary do not convey the amendment’s true meaning.
  • The ballot title and summary mislead voters regarding the amendment’s true scope.
  • The ballot summary leads voters to believe there is no conflict with federal law.

In her petition, Bondi told the Court Florida voters deserve full disclosure when being asked to amend the state Constitution.
“They deserve proposals presented accurately and fairly,” Bondi wrote. “In this case, the Sponsor has presented its proposal in a way that does not convey its true meaning and ramifications. Indeed, the sponsor has obscured the most fundamental issue underlying its proposal: the nature and scope of marijuana use the amendment would allow.”

Bondi said the ballot language suggests that medical marijuana would be allowed only in narrow circumstances for patients with debilitating diseases.

“But if the amendment passed, Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations,” Bondi wrote. “In addition, rather than informing voters that federal criminal law restricts medical marijuana, the balance summary misleadingly suggests the opposite... Because of how the amendment is presented, its true scope and effect remain hidden.”

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments over the ballot language on Dec. 5.

Ballot title:

Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions

Ballot summary:

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.