Florida Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Medical Marijuana

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: December 5, 2013 11:15 AM
Medical Marijuana

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 Supreme Court grilled People United over the amendment's vague language, which is titled “Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions.” The proposed initiative would allow for the medicinal use of marijuana for a list of specified conditions as well as "any other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

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.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.

Comments (8)

9:28AM DEC 6TH 2013
The hypocracy of our culture is overwhelming sometimes. How can anyone support alcohol and cigarettes/tobacco products and yet, not support Marijuana? Heck! take out the medical part. It should be just as legal as booze and ciggy's. Either ban it all or legalize it all. Stop with the games.
8:25AM DEC 6TH 2013
“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.”

If that's true; so? A doctor could also prescribe a pharmaceutical that he/she sells for a profit and can cost in the thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars even if they determined the benefits didn't outweigh the risks.

What should make a natural plant in its natural form that a person could cultivate themselves have to be held to a higher standard than a drug manufactured in a lab and sold for a profit at every step of the way?
Dean Franklin
6:11PM DEC 5TH 2013
Bondi and fellow republicants have proved their hypocrisy. The FL House and Senate have refused to even consider medical marijuana. While fighting MM, they worry that it is against fed law, yet wasted millions fighting obamacare. During that fight they stated politicians should not get between a doctor and patient, then in fighting MM, they do just that. It is all about power and politics, bad politics. Shame on them all. Hypocrits
Brandon Singh
2:01PM DEC 5TH 2013
19 Other states and the district of columbia have medical marijuana programs and there doing fantastic, thriving even. The time is now, Florida needs medical marijuana, go to to sign the petition.
2:24PM DEC 5TH 2013
It is ILLEGAL under federal law. Hopefully we will elect our next President he or she will enforce current law not pick and choose which laws he enforces.
Dean Franklin
7:23PM DEC 5TH 2013
For all of those against medical marijuana, I would ask. What is your stance on the ACA, aka obamacare? If you are against it, it is federal law. Thus, an argument that MM is against fed law, is not logical. Then, take all of your arguments against obamacare, and consider them for MM. Thanx
8:18AM DEC 6TH 2013
Good point!
Daniel Sheppard
3:03PM DEC 5TH 2013
The real question is .. why isn't alcohol illegal since there is literally NO benefits to its use and it is constantly abused. Meanwhile Marijuana has a mass number of benefits and is illegal. It really comes down to the fact that they can make more money off the population from it being illegal( or that's at least what politicians believe). Marijuana has never killed someone and alcohol kills everyday. The reason alcohol is legal is mainly because it helps with population control and the government/ economy can make so much money off people abusing it: DUI, tickets, rehabs, consumption, medical conditions cause by effects... If people are always happy/ or in a good mood, not getting sick or dying, not buying pills or getting arrested. The corrupt wouldn't make there money. If you really think about the big picture and whats legal now you'll know why so many people are striving for change.

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