Florida Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Medical Marijuana
Around the State
The fight to legalize medical marijuana in Florida took its next step Thursday when the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments from the attorney general and People United For Medical Marijuana on whether the issue should be put on the ballot in 2014.
The hour-long hearing consisted of 30-minute arguments from both sides, focusing on the language of the title and summary of the proposed constitutional amendment and whether the initiative could mislead voters come next year.
The justices focused on the definition of what medical conditions were “debilitating” enough to warrant the use of medical marijuana.
“The way [the amendment] is drafted in the first section, it seems that if you had cancer, the doctor could prescribe medical marijuana even though they determined the benefits didn’t outweigh the risks,” said Justice Barbara Pariente of the proposed amendment. “This definition ... doesn’t appear to relate back to those conditions.”
People United’s attorney Jon Mills said the title and summary “does not have to be perfect.”
Opponents of the amendment brought up several of what they saw as weaknesses in the amendment, including a clause they said could lead voters to believe that medical marijuana wouldn’t violate federal law.
“A voter walking into the voting booth would walk out thinking that medical marijuana is lawful under federal law because of the choices that the sponsor made in putting this summary together,” said Solicitor General Allen Winsor, speaking on behalf of the attorney general. “In fact, marijuana is illegal under federal law, medical use or otherwise ... every step of the process that this amendment would authorize -- the growing, the transportation, the selling, the buying, the smoking of marijuana would be a federal criminal offense.”
Some members of the Supreme Court took aim at the portion of the summary which says it "does not authorize violations of federal law or any nonmedical use, possession or production of marijuana."
“This is just a confusing statement that is likely to lead people to believe that nothing ... that is authorized here is going to be illegal under federal law,” said Justice Canady on the initiative.
It could be weeks before the Florida Supreme Court makes a decision on the amendment.
Attorney General Pam Bondi initially expressed concerns over the broad language of the proposed constitutional amendment, arguing that the ballot title and initiative are overall misleading to voters and hide the amendment’s “true scope and effect."
Bondi also warned over the potential abuse of the drug if the amendment were to pass as-is.
“The amendment would make Florida one of the most permissive states in the country,” said Bondi in a brief filed last month. “Unlike most other states’ narrow and limited programs, this proposal would allow anyone of any age to use marijuana for any reason, so long as they found a physician to say that the benefits would outweigh the risks.”
Bondi’s concerns had been echoed by legislators in Tallahassee. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz both expressed concerns over the potential for “marijuana shops on every street corner” in the state.
People United, however, slammed opponents of the initiative, saying they were twisting the truth and preventing those who need the drug from legally obtaining help.
“Any statement that the initiative would allow unfettered use of medical marijuana would itself be misleading to voters,” wrote People United’s lawyer, Jon Mills.
The amendment has garnered the attention of Floridians from both parties, including Orlando-based uber-lawyer John Morgan, who has put thousands of his own dollars into supporting the initiative.
Morgan has made no secret about his support for the amendment, taking to radio airwaves to urge voters to join his “Army of Angels” to get medical marijuana on the ballot.
Morgan disagreed with critics of the initiative. He said he didn’t believe there was anything misleading about the ballot’s language, putting his trust in Florida’s doctors to correctly diagnose when medical marijuana would be necessary for a patient.
“I don’t think there’s anything vague or misleading about the word 'debilitating,'” Morgan said. “Doctors in our state know what debilitating is and what it’s not.”
If the Florida Supreme Court does allow the amendment on the ballot next November, People United would still need to gather more than 683,000 petition signatures by Feb. 1. People United says it has about 500,000 signed petitions, but less than half have been verified.