Pubdate: Wed, 04 Dec 2013
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2013 Miami Herald Media Co.
Author: Marc Caputo

Medical Marijuana


Tallahassee's political establishment has repeatedly blocked
legislative votes on medical marijuana and will ask the Florida
Supreme Court Thursday to follow suit and keep the issue away from
state voters in 2014.

Led by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, opponents have raised a
host of objections to the proposed state constitutional amendment,
which they say could lead to de facto "unfettered" marijuana
legalization under the guise of compassionate medicine.

"The proposal hides the fact that the Amendment would make Florida one
of the most lenient medical-marijuana states," says Bondi's initial
court brief,

The amendment backers, People United for Medical Marijuana, say
opponents are twisting the truth and preventing the sick from legally
obtaining help.

"Any statement that the initiative would allow unfettered use of
medical marijuana would itself be misleading to voters," wrote People
United's lawyer, John Mills.

Mills accused Bondi and opponents of dressing up inaccurate
campaign-trail talking points as technical legal arguments to keep
Florida from being the 21st state to decriminalize marijuana for
medical and other reasons.

For the past three years, medical marijuana bills have died in the
Florida Legislature, where leaders wouldn't even schedule a vote.

People United, a political committee, says it's acting because the
Legislature failed to. People United formed as a nonpartisan group,
but partisan lines are forming behind the scenes.

The amendment's opponents are mostly Republicans who back incumbent
Gov. Rick Scott, an opponent. Its backers are Democrats who support
Charlie Crist, a proponent of the amendment.

One early polling analysis suggested that medical marijuana - which
enjoys bipartisan support and garnered 82 percent approval in a recent
poll - could affect the 2014 governor's race, but pollsters from both
parties suggest its impact would be minimal.

Even if the Supreme Court allows the proposal to proceed to the
November ballot, amendment sponsors will still need to gather 683,149
voter-signatures by Feb. 1. People United says it has about 500,000
signed petitions, fewer than half of which have been verified.

To pass, an amendment needs 60 percent voter support, a significant

During oral arguments Thursday, the state Supreme Court justices will
focus on whether the proposed amendment limits itself to one subject,
is clear and whether its ballot title or 75-word ballot summary are

The ballot summary's language has drawn the most criticism. It says
medical marijuana would be reserved for those who suffer from
"debilitating diseases."

But the language is open to wide interpretation, says Bondi's court
briefs, which are echoed by filings from state House and Senate
leaders, an anti-drug group and powerful lobbies that include the
Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Medical Association and the
associations representing police chiefs and sheriffs.

"The summary uses language to prey on voters' understandable
sympathies for Florida's most vulnerable patients - those suffering
'debilitating diseases,'" one filing says. "If voters are asked to
open Florida to expansive marijuana use, they deserve to know it."

People United's filings say the opponents are misrepresenting the
plain language and intent of the amendment, which list "a series of
specific conditions that must be met for a patient to receive medical

The amendment text says that a physician must first conduct a physical
examination of patients, assess their medical history and then use his
or her "professional opinion" to then decide if "a patient suffers
from a debilitating medical condition."

The physician is also supposed to determine that marijuana use would
be more beneficial then harmful, the period of time it should be used
and then write and sign a prescription-like certification.

Opponents point out that the ballot summary says medical marijuana is
reserved for "debilitating diseases" while the actual text only talks
about "debilitating medical conditions." So voters could be confused.
People United rejects the argument.

 From cancer to AIDS to multiple sclerosis, nine "debilitating"
conditions are specifically listed in the amendment text.

But the text also says cannabis could be certified for "other
conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of
marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

What are these "other conditions" in the amendment?

People United says in court filings that the amendment "leaves open
the use of medical marijuana for other conditions as the practice of
medicine evolves," but the unspecified maladies are not "trivial and
minor conditions," as opponents have claimed.

The group also cites a legal doctrine, "ejusdem generis," that notes
"when a general phrase follows a list of specifics, the general phrase
will be interpreted to include only items of the same type as those

Opponents say there needs to be more clarity. And they complain the
ballot title says "certain" ailments will be covered, but the
amendment doesn't guarantee certainty.

"There is no qualifier in the catch-all phrase that requires that such
'other conditions' be similar in nature or severity to the preceding
list of nine specific conditions," the opponents, led by the Florida
Chamber, wrote in a filing.

"A voter who agrees with the medical use of marijuana for the nine
listed conditions might not want to authorize its use for less serious
conditions or diseases."

The opponents say that, by combining a potentially desirable outcome
with a potentially undesirable one, the amendment is impermissibly
"logrolling" the issues together.

Also, opponents say, the proposal logrolls, misleads voters or
violates constitutional protections or issues by:

Giving physicians, patients and some caregivers immunity from criminal
and civil actions in some cases. People United says it's needed to
prevent harassment.

Allowing all types of physicians, including podiatrists and
chiropractors, to recommend marijuana. People United says the
Legislature can limit the scope to just medical doctors.

Granting legal standing for any citizen to sue the government if it
doesn't comply with the amendment. People United says that's not a
single-subject violation and it doesn't substantially affect the
government's operations.

Directing the Department of Health to enforce medical-marijuana rules,
which should be the purview of the Legislature. People United says the
law would be a "minimal addition" to the department's current duties.

Creating a new public-records exemption for patients' identities.
People United says this, too, is a minimal issue and is within the
amendment's scope.

Misleading people into believing the amendment would make medical
marijuana illegal under federal law. People United says the court has
to assume voters aren't that ignorant.
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