Florida Supreme Court OKs Medical Pot Ballot Language
Around the State
Florida voters will get the chance to vote on legalizing medical marijuana in November. On Monday, the issue received the green light to head to the ballot later this year, with the Florida Supreme Court passing the amendment by a vote of 4-3.
The court’s decision is the last hurdle the initiative faced before it would be placed on the ballot in November. On Friday, the initiative gathered enough valid signatures to move the proposed amendment forward.
Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James Perry all voted in favor of the amendment. Justices Charles Canady, Jorge Labarga and Chief Justice Ricky Polston opposed the amendment language.
Justices Pariente, Lewis, Quince and Perry explained their disagreement with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s sentiments that the amendment engages “in impermissible logrolling by combining separate subjects into one proposal, and that the amendment substantially alters multiple functions of government by making broad legislative policy determinations.”
“We conclude that the proposed amendment has a logical and natural oneness of purpose -- namely, whether Floridians want a provision in the state Constitution authorizing the medical use of marijuana, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, under Florida law,” they wrote.
Chief Justice Ricky Polston dissented, saying that placing the initiative’s title and summary on the ballot would “result in Floridians voting on a constitutional amendment in disguise.”
“Given the plain meaning of the words used, the ballot summary and title mislead voters and do not disclose the true purpose and effect of the amendment’s text,” wrote Polston. “The summary and title ’hide the ball’ and allow this initiative to ‘fly under false colors’ regarding the severity of medical issues that qualify for marijuana use, a type of deception this court has previously disallowed and assailed against.”
Justice Canady went further in his dissent, saying voters could be "potentially hoodwinked" into believing the amendment complies with federal law.
"Foisting this seriously deceptive ballot summary on the voters does a severe disservice to the people and to their Constitution," he wrote.
Bondi and opponents of the amendment language also expressed concern that the ballot language could be misleading to say it “allows the medical use of marijuana” because it’s still prohibited by federal law.
Bondi also said the ballot’s phrase “does not authorize violations of federal law” suggests there is no federal prohibition against medical marijuana.
But the court's opinion of the amendment language said that asserting the ballot summary should include language not in the amendment isn’t required, and ultimately rejected Bondi’s assertions that the ballot summary’s discussion of federal law is misleading.
The amendment was proposed by United For Care, which spent months gathering petitions across Florida.
Lawyer John Morgan took the banner to crusade for medical marijuana in the Sunshine State, funneling more than $2.8 million into the initiative at the eleventh hour. Campaign finance reports showed Morgan’s family and his law firm accounted for 83 percent of the legalization effort's entire budget.
Medical marijuana is widely supported by Floridians -- a recent Quinnipiac University poll found 82 percent of voters said they would support allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical use if it is prescribed by a doctor.
The following is the language justices approved for the November ballot:
"Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions
"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."
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.