Pubdate: Fri, 12 Jul 2013
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2013 Miami Herald Media Co.
Author: Marc Caputo


The backers of a Florida medical-marijuana initiative have rewritten 
their proposed constitutional amendment and now face the toughest of 
paths to even get on the 2014 ballot.

After consulting with high-powered lawyers and conducting polls and 
focus groups, People United for Medical Marijuana decided to scrap 
its original initiative out of a fear that it wouldn't survive the 
courts or might not withstand the attacks of anti-drug activists.

A new survey conducted by the group, nicknamed PUFMM, shows the 
latest proposal could garner as much as 71 percent of the vote. It 
takes 60 percent of voters to approve a state constitutional amendment.

The poll of 500 likely Florida voters also indicated that a 
plurality, 46 percent, favored outright legalization while 36 percent 
opposed it.

But whether medical pot will ever be decided by voters in next year's 
election is an open question.

By proposing new language, approved Wednesday by the state, PUFMM 
discarded tens of thousands of petition signatures from voters who 
wanted to get medical marijuana on the ballot.

Now the process begins again.

"We're starting out with no signatures in the bank and we need more 
than 683,000 signatures just to make the ballot," said Ben Pollara, 
treasurer for the group, nicknamed PUFMM.

But PUFMM will need to gather far more than the required 683,149 
valid voter signatures - perhaps as many as 1 million - because not 
every petition it submits to election officials for verification will 
come from a registered voter.

There's not much time.

The petition verification deadline is Feb. 1, 2104. But officials and 
campaign experts say the bulk of the petitions need to be submitted 
well before the deadline to give elections officials enough time to 
verify the voter signatures.

To gather so many signatures in such a short period of time, the 
group will need to hire paid petition gathers, who could charge as 
much as $4 per petition. Maximum likely cost: $4 million.

And there's yet another hurdle. Once the group gathers 10 percent of 
the valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, it needs to 
submit the language to the Florida Supreme Court, which will decide 
whether the language is misleading or impermissibly tackles multiple 
subjects instead of just one issue.

The original ballot summary listed a number of specific diseases, but 
still said physicians could recommend medical pot uses for other purposes.

The new proposed summary dwells briefly on "debilitating diseases," 
and calls on the Department of Health to regulate the program, 
distribute medical-marijuana identification cards and regulate 
licensed pot dispensaries. It also specifies that it does not 
"authorize violations of federal law," which still holds that 
marijuana is illegal.

The proposed text of the actual ballot language also grew from nearly 
200 words to more than 1,300.

Pollara said the revamped proposal was drafted in consultation with 
focus groups, conducted by The Kitchens Group, which also produced 
the June survey of 500 likely voters showing that about 7 in 10 would 
support medical marijuana.

But support wasn't rock solid. After asking a series of questions 
about the proposal, support slightly slipped to 65 percent.

A big drawback of the proposal in the eyes of potential voters: the 
idea that medical marijuana could lead to a rash of homegrown pot.

When asked if qualifying patients who live far away from a dispensary 
should be able to grow their own plants, only 30 percent of voters in 
the poll favored the idea; 70 percent agreed with the statement that 
"medical marijuana should only be available at a licensed dispensary 
regulated by the state. People should not be allowed to grow 
marijuana at home under any circumstances."

About 52 percent of poll respondents said they "worry" kids could 
more easily obtain marijuana if medical cannabis were legalized.

Also, the idea that medical marijuana is a "gateway drug" leading to 
more cocaine or heroin use is a major challenge, according to the 
focus group report.

A plus for the proposal: 79 percent of voters agreed with the 
statement that marijuana is "lot less dangerous than many 
prescription drugs which are easily available." And 74 percent agreed 
with the statement that "marijuana is illegal because pharmaceutical 
companies and drug cartels are making so much money selling their drugs."

The most popular statement polled: "The best treatment for a patient 
is a medical decision and should be made exclusively by a doctor and 
a patient." More than 91 percent of people agreed with that statement.

But don't expect the state's leading physicians group, the Florida 
Medical Association, to support the proposal. Like the American 
Medical Association, the FMA opposes medical-marijuana initiatives.

So does the St. Petersburg-based Save Our Society from Drugs, which 
has fought similar proposals in other states.

"This isn't just about somebody on their death bed smoking a joint," 
said Calvina Fay, executive director for SOS, said. "This is about 
cultivation, trafficking, sales, retails sales and it's not limited 
to people on their death bed. It's wide open."

The main financial backer of Florida's proposed constitution 
amendment, Orlando trial lawyer and Democratic fundraiser John 
Morgan, whose father used medical marijuana before his death 
recently, said opponents are using fear tactics that keep sick people 
from getting the relief they need.

So far, marijuana decriminalization forces have won the day in 19 
states plus the District of Columbia, which have decriminalized pot 
in one form or another. The Illinois Legislature approved a medical 
marijuana plan last month and New Hampshire just followed suit.

Florida's Legislature has refused to even hear the issue. 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom