Pubdate: Thu, 05 Dec 2013
Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Copyright: 2013 St. Petersburg Times
Note: Named the St. Petersburg Times from 1884=C2=962011.
Author: Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald
Page: A1


The Supreme Court to hear a case to keep medical marijuana off the
2014 state ballot.

Tallahassee's political estabA-lishment has repeatedly blocked
legislative votes on medical marA-ijuana and will ask the FlorA-ida
Supreme Court today to folA-low suit and keep the issue away from
state voters in 2014.

Led by Florida Attorney GenA-eral Pam Bondi, opponents have raised a
host of objections to the proposed state constituA-tional amendment,
which they say could lead to de facto 'unfetA-tered' marijuana
legalization under the guise of compassionA-ate 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, PeoA-ple United for Medical MariA-juana, say
opponents are twistA-ing the truth and preventing the sick from
legally obtaining help.

'Any statement that the iniA-tiative would allow unfettereduse 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 today, 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
marijuana.' 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 than 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.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt