Pubdate: Mon, 13 Oct 2014
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sarasota Herald-Tribune


Florida should become 24th state to allow medical use of

Amendment 2 -- titled "Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical
Conditions" -- is the most controversial proposal on the general
election ballot.

Yet, if the measure is approved by at least 60 percent of voters,
Florida would not break new ground. Twenty-three states have already
approved the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

The ballot summary states: "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 court and public opinion

Proponents of Amendment 2 obtained the signatures of nearly 700,000
registered voters -- a significant undertaking and demonstration of
public support.

Any amendment must overcome another hurdle before appearing on the
ballot -- review by the Florida Supreme Court. The court does not rule
on the merits of the proposal but it does consider whether: the
language is misleading; the amendment is limited, as the law requires,
to a single subject.

The court's opinion cleared the way for a referendum and addressed the
opponents' arguments that the language is overly expansive and laden
with loopholes.

 From the opinion: "Rather than allow the open-ended, broad use of
marijuana, these multiple restrictions in the text of the amendment
itself reflect a constitutional scheme that is meant to be limited in
scope regarding the medical use of marijuana to treat 'debilitating
medical conditions.'"

The amendment's complete text lists the medical conditions that would
be considered "debilitating": cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis
C, "Lou Gehrig's disease," Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and
multiple sclerosis.

Both research and anecdotal evidence indicate that marijuana can
provide relief to people with some of those conditions. Of course,
there are conflicting studies and, unfortunately, strict laws and
regulations in the United States erect significant barriers to
conducting additional studies.

The section specifying the conditions above includes "or other
conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of
marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

This clause is cited by opponents who contend the proposal is vague
and would allow physicians to recommend marijuana to patients without
"debilitating" conditions.

The Supreme Court rejected that argument. However, reasonable minds

In a Herald-Tribune forum on Amendment 2, a pain management expert
contended that patients would be able to get pot for conditions such
as post-nasal drip; the constitutional law expert who defended the
amendment in court strongly disagreed.

If the amendment passes, this dispute should be settled in regulations
that the Department of Health would be required to develop. Such rules
should ensure that the "licensed physicians" authorized to recommend
marijuana have the training to do so.

The fact that state agencies have yet to determine which physicians
could recommend marijuana is a concern. But the need for reasonable
determinations should not undermine the amendment, especially if
physicians would be required to enter their recommendations into a
secure database.

Medical doctors and others express concerns about a lack of guidelines
for proper doses and uses of marijuana. We share those concerns yet,
when compared with other widely prescribed medicines, the side effects
of marijuana are not on par with high-powered painkillers that are
potentially addictive and can result in severe abuse.

Most opponents and proponents agree that marijuana should not be
regulated as a Schedule 1 substance, which wrongly includes pot with
substances that are highly addictive and have no medical value, and
limits research.

Ideally, the federal government would reform its controlled-substance
schedule and invest substantially in research about cannabis and its
unique properties. Furthermore, states such as Florida would have
already passed legislation that provides a reasonable range of
patients and their physicians with the marijuana option.

Response to Inaction

But the federal government has not done so and only this year the
Florida Legislature approved the limited use of a specific marijuana
strain for children suffering from a rare form of epilepsy.

Even after Cathy Jordan, a Parrish woman with amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis, made headlines in early 2013 when her marijuana plants were
seized by Manatee sheriff's deputies, the Legislature failed to
approve a reasonable medical-marijuana bill.

State government responded too slowly to the prescription-drug
epidemic, so we recognize the concern that Florida won't adequately
regulate medical marijuana. However, the amendment gives the
Department of Health ample opportunities to regulate physicians and
dispensaries; what's more, cities and counties can use zoning
regulations to control the location of dispensaries.

Some critics have suggested that passage of Amendment 2 would lead to
outright legalization of marijuana in Florida. But that step could not
be taken without legislative action or approval of another
constitutional amendment. If Amendment 2 is approved and is a mistake,
there would be a remedy: The Legislature could place a repeal measure
on the ballot -- as soon as 2016.

As in other states, the Florida Legislature's inaction led citizens to
propose an amendment. So, it is reasonable, we think, for Florida to
become the 24th state that allows marijuana to be used by patients who
have the approval of a licensed physician.

We recommend voting YES, for Amendment 2.  
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