By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The fight over a proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution that would legalize medical marijuana is making its way this week to the Florida Supreme Court.
State GOP leaders, such as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, have been railing against a citizen-led initiative to get a medical marijuana amendment on next year’s ballot.
Most recently, the initiative has garnered financial support for John Morgan, a wealthy trial lawyer in Florida.
Since then, the amendment campaign has gotten closer to the amount of signatures it needs to get the measure on the 2014 ballot. Now, opponents of the amendment are looking to stop it in court. According to Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Herald-Tribune:
On Dec. 5, the justices will hear arguments over the language of the proposal that will be on the November 2014 ballot if sponsors secure nearly 700,000 validated voter signatures by early next year.
Opponents, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, legislative leaders, doctors and anti-drug groups, will argue that the ballot language is misleading and would lead to the widespread use of marijuana far beyond the treatment of Floridians for debilitating diseases like cancer or ALS.
… The Supreme Court decision will pivot on two issues: whether the ballot language is accurate and whether the proposal encompasses a “single subject.”
Opponents say the measure misses the mark on both counts.
In a brief filed this month, Bondi, the state’s top legal officer, argued that the amendment is so broadly written that while it will allow patients with cancer and other serious diseases to use medical marijuana, it would also make it available to other Floridians with less debilitating ailments, ranging from insomnia to anxiety to “everyday aches and pains.”
“If voters want to make Florida one of the most permissive medical marijuana states in the country they can use their constitutional initiative power to do so. That is their right,” the brief said.
But Bondi argued the amendment must be rejected by the court because ballot language does not reveal the initiative’s “true purpose.”
Other GOP leaders in the state, such as Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, also filed briefs with the court in an effort to have it thrown out.
However, new polling suggests Bondi, Weatherford and others are in the minority. According to a Quinnipiac Poll released a few weeks ago, if the amendment were on the ballot today, it would pass overwhelmingly in Florida with 82 percent of the vote. The Miami Herald reported:
The overall 82-16 percent support for medical marijuana is the biggest to date. The previous high-point for Florida approval was about 70 percent in a poll taken earlier this year by the medical-marijuana advocacy group, People United for Medical Marijuana.
There are some differences in wording between the initiative and the Quinnipiac poll; the amendment says doctors can “recommend” marijuana, the poll asks if a doctor should be able to “prescribe” it.
Still, medical marijuana is clearly popular. And marijuana legalization is becoming more-liked as well, albeit narrowly.
Nearly half of Florida voters favor it — 48 percent — while 46 percent oppose pot legalization for personal use. That’s within the margin of error, but it’s a leading indicator of a shift in public opinion. Support for legalization is again strongest among independents (57-37 percent), and then Democrats (55-39 percent).
But Republicans are opposed 30-64 percent. Contrast that with GOP voter support for medical marijuana is solid: 70-26 percent.
This issue has become so popular that there is talk it could affect the 2014 gubernatorial race in Florida.
As of now, Gov. Rick Scott is against the medical marijuana amendment. His Democratic opponents, including former governor Charlie Crist, are for the amendment. Crist recently said in an interview with WJCT that the amendment is “an issue of compassion.” Via WJCT:
“You have people who feel that if there are people who are suffering through pain or lack of appetite, and you have a real doctor who prescribes medical marijuana, then I don’t know why you would really be opposed to it, and so I’m not opposed to it,” [Crist] said, citing recent poll number showing over 80 percent of state residents in support of the measure.
“I think it’s fine,” he said, adding that he supports the approval of using the drug for medical treatment only as prescribed by a physician.
Some supporters have also said that the GOP is most worried that if the amendment is on the ballot it will turn out Democratic voters for Scott’s re-election campaign. Democrats don’t turn out in high numbers during mid-term elections, which has given Republicans and edge in the past several Florida gubernatorial elections.
However, this ballot measure could be the impetus to bring out droves of anti-Scott voters.
Considering the 2014 race is already one of the most closely-watched in the country, any factor that could tip the scales is going to get a lot of scrutiny.