TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters)
— Florida voters will decide in November whether to legalize
medical marijuana after the state Supreme Court on Monday approved
an initiative to put the measure on the ballot.
By Bill CotterellFlorida's Republican Party
leadership had opposed the wording of the ballot measure, saying it
was too vague and misleading and that it would allow almost anyone
to obtain marijuana for the slightest medical complaint.
A bitterly divided state Supreme Court voted 4-3 on Monday to allow
the medical marijuana initiative to go on the November ballot,
saying it met all legal requirements.
If the petition is backed by 60 percent of voters in November,
Florida would become the first Southern U.S. state to approve
marijuana for medical use, joining 20 other states.
A Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey late last year
showed 82 percent public support for the amendment if it was put on
the ballot. A constitutional amendment in Florida requires 60
percent voter approval for adoption.
In an unsigned 44-page ruling, the high court held that the ballot
title and summary wording "are not clearly and conclusively
It went on to say the proposed amendment gave voters "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
Organizers of the "United for Care" campaign had succeeded on Friday
in topping the signature requirement of 683,000 verified voter
petitions from across the state.
"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."
Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, opposes the initiative,
as do the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Sheriff's
The Florida legislature has refused for years to authorize medical
use of marijuana, although a plan to permit tightly controlled
prescription of a non-euphoric marijuana derivative known as
"Charlotte's Web" for children with epileptic seizures has gained
traction in the House.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state's Republican
leadership filed briefs in the Supreme Court last year urging the
justices to deny the ballot initiative. The justices do not rule on
the wisdom of an amendment, but only determine whether it deals with
a single subject and whether its ballot summary properly informs the
voter of what the proposal does.
Scott issued a short statement expressing "empathy" for people
battling diseases but said he would vote against the amendment.
Charlie Crist, a one-time Republican governor of Florida who is
running for the same office against Scott in November as a Democrat,
welcomed the court's decision. "I'm going to vote for it and I think
it's the right thing to do," he said.
Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justices Jorge Labarga and Charles
Canady strongly dissented on Monday.
"The summary and title 'hide the ball' and allow this initiative to
'fly under false colors' regarding the severity of medical issues
that qualify for marijuana use," wrote Polston.
Bondi and legislative attorneys had argued that allowing doctors
to prescribe marijuana when they believe its benefits outweigh its
risks for a patient was overly broad. In oral arguments in December,
Polston said the amendment would allow doctors to prescribe pot for
"stress" and asked whether a college student worried about final
exams might be able to get marijuana legally.
Backers of the amendment said marijuana would be tightly controlled
and that the proposal would not lead to legalization of recreational
Jon Mills, a former University of Florida law school dean defending
the ballot language, replied that doctors — and voters — know the
difference between a debilitating "disease," such as HIV/AIDS,
cancer, ALS (also called Lou Gehrig's disease), or epilepsy, and a
"condition" warranting marijuana use.
Canady, a former Republican congressman, focused much of his
dissent on potential conflict with federal drug laws, saying the
ballot was "blatantly deceptive."
The ballot language states that nothing in the amendment allows
illegal marijuana use or violation of federal law.
That cannot be, wrote Canady in a separate dissent.
"The summary states that the proposed amendment 'does not authorize
violation of federal law,' but the truth is that violations of
federal law unquestionably are authorized by the amendment," he
(Additional reporting by David Adams;
editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mohammad Zargham)