Big names in Florida are celebrating a recent decision by the state Supreme Court that will put medical marijuana on the November ballot.
The court ruled 4-3 Jan. 27 that a proposal to legalize MMJ could proceed. State elections officials have also certified the voter signatures supporters needed, meaning they’re cleared for the ballot.
That’s a big step toward reform. A poll released in November showed 82 percent of Floridians support medical pot. A survey from earlier in the year showed 70 percent support. Those are strong numbers, which is important, since a constitutional amendment must pass with at least 60 percent of the vote to take effect.
Those numbers conflict with the position of the state Republican Party, especially the Tea Party wing currently running Florida government. Gov. Rick Scott adamantly opposes MMJ, as does his ally, Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi sued to stop the ballot proposal, claiming it would mislead voters. The Supreme Court ultimately disagreed, by a narrow margin.
The high court held that the language used in the ballot title and summary “are not clearly and conclusively defective.”
The court wasn’t supposed to rule on the merits of the initiative – on whether the justices like the idea – but rather on whether the ballot language is misleading.
The amendment, the court said, gave “fair notice as to the chief purpose and scope of the proposed amendment, which is to allow a restricted use of marijuana for certain debilitating medical conditions.”
Now medicinal pot is headed for the ballot, and proponents are optimistic. The effort to put the initiative before voters was led by Orlando personal injury lawyer John Morgan. His law partner, Charlie Crist, is a former Republican governor currently seeking the office as a Democrat.
Crist praised the ruling and said he supported the amendment. “I’m going to vote for it and I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said after the decision was announced.
Campaign workers were also celebrating, especially after election officials certified the last of the 683,000 signatures they needed.
“We’re obviously thrilled with the results,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for the ballot drive. “The voice of Floridians will finally get to be heard on this issue.”
Some other notable voices piped up in favor of the amendment. Author and journalist Carl Hiaasen called the Supreme Court decision “bad news for Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican leaders who oppose any relaxation of the state’s backward cannabis laws.”
Hiaasen said most voters understand weed could get into the hands of users without legitimate conditions – but don’t much care. They’ve watched California, “where no anarchy materialized after medicinal pot was approved” in 1996. Hiaasen, one of the state’s most beloved writers, pointed out that Florida was home to a massive pill-mill industry until a crackdown in 2011.
“There’s one huge difference between the phony pain clinics that once proliferated here and the marijuana dispensaries that will open if 60 percent of voters approve: Pill mills, which cater to addicts and street dealers, kill lots of people,” he wrote. “Pot dispensaries don’t.”