Pubdate: Fri, 25 Mar 2016
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2016 The Tribune Co.
Author: Paula Dockery
Note: Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the 
Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.


Two years ago, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment was on 
the ballot in Florida. Even though a majority of voters supported it 
- - 58 percent - it failed to meet the 60 percent threshold needed for passage.

There was a strong and well-financed opposition that relied on 
doomsday scenarios and scare tactics. Others who opposed the measure 
did so by saying the change should be done by the Legislature in 
statute, not by citizens in the Florida Constitution.

During that time the Legislature - opposed to full-fledged 
decriminalization of marijuana for medical purposes - passed a very 
limited form of non-euphoric marijuana for children with epilepsy or 
chronic seizures.

The legislation passed in the spring of 2014 but has been delayed by 
state agency rule-making and legal challenges by nurseries that want 
to grow the plants and dispense the medical marijuana. The bill 
limited the number of dispensing organizations of the low-THC cannabis to five.

Left out were the tens of thousands of Floridians who could benefit 
from marijuana to treat their life-threatening illnesses, ease their 
pain or nausea, or increase their appetite.

Supporters of medical marijuana would have to start all over if they 
wanted to put it back on the ballot. That meant drafting ballot 
language, passing Florida Supreme Court review and collecting 
hundreds of thousands of petition signatures. All this takes time and money.

Meanwhile, family and friends were risking incarceration for 
illegally purchasing marijuana on the street for their loved ones. 
Those suffering with pain or debilitating illnesses were also 
illegally purchasing it for themselves. Think of the risks. If caught 
they could be arrested, incur legal expenses, or worse, jail.

What about the characters they were purchasing it from? Could they be 
trusted? Was it safe?

The group behind the amendment - United for Care - shared some of 
those same concerns and jumped right back in to provide a safer, 
regulated system of legally purchasing marijuana for legitimate 
medical reasons. Orlando attorney John Morgan is the force behind 
United for Care - and motivated by a brother in need.

Morgan and his group again jumped all the hoops and, with 692,981 
verified signatures, medical marijuana is heading back to the ballot 
this fall. It even has the same place on the ballot - Amendment 2.

What's different this time? How has the landscape changed? And what 
are the chances it will attain the 60 percent of the vote needed for passage?

One important change is the actual ballot language.

To address concerns that the original amendment was overly broad - 
allowing opponents to falsely claim it opened it up to recreational 
users - the language was tightened up. According to Ben Pollara of 
United for Care, Amendment 2 has clearer definitions of eligible 
medical conditions - cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, glaucoma and several 
others. It also requires parental consent and verification for 
minors, addressing another red herring of opponents.

Another change is the timing of the ballot. The first attempt was 
during a nonpresidential election year when voter turnout is 
generally lower. This year, with a competitive battle for the 
presidency, turnout should be robust. Keep in mind, the ballot 
proposal failed by only 2 percentage points - receiving 58 percent of 
the vote when 60 percent was needed.

Another difference? The Legislature might be shifting on the issue. 
There was some surprising news out of the just-concluded legislative 
session. Thanks to the bipartisan efforts of state Rep. Matt Gaetz, 
R-Fort Walton Beach, state Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, and 
state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming, legislation passed that would 
allow dying patients to be prescribed full-strength medical marijuana.

If Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill into law, it would greatly help 
many terminally ill Floridians.

Although a positive development, the bill is too narrow. There would 
still be thousands of others hoping for relief and compassion for 
their suffering. The passage of Amendment 2 would help them. It's not 
a risky proposition, as 23 states have already legalized marijuana 
for medical conditions.

The chance of passage this year is promising.

According to a recent PPP poll, 65 percent of Florida voters would 
support the medical marijuana initiative while only 28 percent are 
opposed. Support crosses party lines.

Democrats support the measure 75 percent to 18 percent, independents 
70-20 and Republicans 53-40.

Some local governments also are weighing in on marijuana-related issues.

The Volusia County Council - by unanimous vote - gave law enforcement 
officers discretion to impose a fine rather than arrest individuals 
possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana.

Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Alachua counties already have 
similar ordinances.

Florida cities are joining in. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is the latest 
to sign such an ordinance.

With strong public support, this just might be the year for 
compassionate help to arrive.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom