Pubdate: Sat, 01 Nov 2014
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Page: A16


Florida should become 24th state to allow medical use of

If proposed constitutional Amendment 2 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.

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. 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 let physicians 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.

Some doctors and others are concerned 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
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 "Lou Gehrig's disease," 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 suggest passing Amendment 2 would lead to outright
legalization of marijuana. 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 is a remedy: The
Legislature could place a repeal measure on the ballot, as soon as

As in other states, the 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.

This Oct. 13 Herald-Tribune editorial is being republished for the
consideration of voters who've yet to cast ballots.
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MAP posted-by: Matt