Pubdate: Wed, 30 Dec 2015
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2015 The Palm Beach Post


Just when it seemed Florida might finally be getting off the state's 
dizzying medical marijuana merry-go-round, new variables promise 
further delay of the legal, non-euphoric marijuana the Legislature 
promised two years ago.

The 2016 session just became legislators' last chance to deliver 
compassion for children with intractable epilepsy, and people with 
advanced cancer and similar debilitating conditions.

The priority on this issue should be to clear the regulatory haze and 
implement the 2014 law - given voters' near-certain approval of a 
much less desirable constitutional amendment that would legalize 
euphoric marijuana for medical use.

New issues begin with the 13 petitions challenging the "dispensing 
organization" licenses granted in November by state health officials. 
The lucrative licenses allowed five nurseries, in five regions, to 
grow and distribute ingestible Charlotte's Web marijuana, low in the 
euphoric-producing chemical THC.

The questions, however, range from due process, scoring and 
security/background challenges, to complaints that four of the five 
nurseries receiving the licenses were represented on the panel that 
helped make the rules. Among those chosen were Costa Farms in 
MiamiDade County, from the Southeast Florida region of Palm Beach, 
Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

While the law's objective was to expedite relief from dire medical 
conditions, as certified by a licensed state physician, an apparently 
shoddy selection process suggests some license awards could be 
reversed - or at least end up in court.

That helps explain the steady march to alter the state constitution, 
forcing the state to allow euphoria-causing cannabis strains and more 
growers, while including more ailments for medical marijuana treatment.

Backers such as United for Care already have had their day in the 
Florida Supreme Court, which recently unanimously approved the 
amendment language.

Moreover, according to the state Division of Elections website, 
amendment supporters have submitted well over 450,000 of the 683,149 
valid petition signatures required by Feb. 1 to get the amendment on 
the Nov. 8 ballot. There, it is almost sure to pass in an 
increased-turnout, presidential election year.

The 2014 effort is increasingly looking like a dry run. Then, 58 
percent of voters supported the amendment, just below the 60 percent 
required to enact constitutional change. This time, backers even 
tweaked the ballot language to address concerns - to specify parents' 
consent, for example, for minors to receive a prescription.

Can a full, recreational-cannabis legalization amendment be far 
behind? Or will leadership instead prescribe the future of marijuana 
in Florida?

What's certain is that the Florida Constitution is not where the 
overdue relief most practically and realistically should come. 
Statutory solutions are always preferable for addressing such 
fast-changing and often volatile issues. Medical marijuana doesn't 
belong in the constitution precisely because of the inherent limits 
on the Legislature's regulatory role, and difficulty in resolving 
unforeseen problems.

It's also no secret that some proponents of legalized recreational 
marijuana - seeking to equate marijuana with alcohol, for example - 
see legalization of medical marijuana as a necessary first step, and 
thus want it established in the state constitution. Again, that's no 
way to run a state.

The fact that voters conceivably could make session action moot, 
however, should not keep legislators from doing their jobs. Lawmakers 
have blown more than enough fog in their effort, but it's too late to 
clear the air.

Equally certain, however, is that the Legislature is leaving medical 
marijuana proponents little other option. Lawmakers should fix this. 
Or they can abdicate their responsibility, let the courts, judges and 
constitution deliver the promised relief, and basically send voters a 
loud hint that they can't count on their elected officials to legislate.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom