Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Can Go on Ballot

Florida will become the 22nd state to legalize the medical use of marijuana if voters approve a measure that the state’s highest court said can be on the ballot in November.

Florida’s Supreme Court said 4-3 yesterday that an initiative submitted by People United for Medical Marijuana meets requirements for inclusion on the ballot, allowing it to come before voters. The state attorney general opposed the move, saying the amendment’s title and summary would mislead voters and allow “far wider” use.

Voters “will be able to cast an intelligent and informed ballot,” the court said in a decision that turned aside arguments that the amendment’s title and summary were confusing.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, according to the website for marijuana-reform organization NORML. Voters in Colorado and Washington approved ballot measures in 2012 to legalize recreational use of the drug.

The Florida law would allow those suffering from glaucoma, AIDS, Parkinson’s diseases and other illnesses to receive marijuana if doctors determine the benefits outweigh health risks. Insurance companies wouldn’t have to pay for the drug, and users under the influence couldn’t operate cars or boats.

Under the law, the state health department would regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana and would issue identification cards to users and caregivers.

‘Drug Abuse’

State officials and groups including the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce oppose the initiative and filed briefs with the court against it.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, said he has “a great deal of empathy for people battling difficult diseases.”

“But, having seen the terrible effects of alcohol and drug abuse first-hand, I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path and I would personally vote against it,” he said in a statement.

Ben Pollara, who led the campaign for medical marijuana in Florida, said in a statement that the court’s ruling marks a “historic moment” for Floridians “suffering from debilitating conditions and illnesses.”

John Morgan, a backer of the amendment and founder of the Tampa-based law firm Morgan & Morgan, said in a phone interview yesterday that he’s confident voters will see the medical benefits of marijuana and support the measure.

No Wait

“We don’t want to have to wait for the pharmaceutical industry to figure this out,” Morgan said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, announced plans this month to allow some patients with cancer, glaucoma and other illnesses use marijuana for medical purposes.

NORML’s count of states with medical marijuana laws includes Maryland, which allows qualifying patients to use health reasons as a limited defense in court if facing criminal charges for possessing as much as an ounce of the drug. The Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project does not use Maryland in its count.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Ricky Polston wrote that the initiative’s ballot summary and title “do not disclose the true purpose and effect of the amendment’s text.”

Among other things the summary and title fail to disclose that a person can obtain marijuana “if a doctor simply thinks the benefits of marijuana would likely outweigh the risks,” Polston wrote.

‘Defective’ Summary

In a separate dissent, Justice Charles T. Canady said the summary was “radically defective” because, among other things, it states that the proposed amendment does not authorize violations of federal law. Under U.S. law, it is illegal to possess or sell any amount of marijuana, according to NORML.

“The truth is that violations of federal law unquestionably are authorized by the amendment,” Canady wrote.

The case is Advisory Opinion to the Attorney General Re: Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions, SC13-2016, Supreme Court of Florida.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.