Monday, December 9, 2013

High court hears medical-marijuana case

Tallahassee’s political establishment has repeatedly blocked legislative votes on medical marijuana and will ask the Florida Supreme Court Thursday to follow suit and keep the issue away from state voters in 2014.

Led by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, opponents have raised a host of objections to the proposed state constitutional amendment, which they say could lead to de facto “unfettered” marijuana legalization under the guise of compassionate medicine.

“The proposal hides the fact that the Amendment would make Florida one of the most lenient medical-marijuana states,” says Bondi’s initial court brief,

The amendment backers, People United for Medical Marijuana, say opponents are twisting the truth and preventing the sick 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, John Mills.

Mills accused Bondi and opponents of dressing up inaccurate campaign-trail talking points as technical legal arguments to keep Florida from being the 21st state to decriminalize marijuana for medical and other reasons.

For the past three years, medical marijuana bills have died in the Florida Legislature, where leaders wouldn’t even schedule a vote.

People United, a political committee, says it’s acting because the Legislature failed to. People United formed as a nonpartisan group, but partisan lines are forming behind the scenes.

The amendment’s opponents are mostly Republicans who back incumbent Gov. Rick Scott, an opponent. Its backers are Democrats who support Charlie Crist, a proponent of the amendment.
One early polling analysis suggested that medical marijuana — which enjoys bipartisan support and garnered 82 percent approval in a recent poll — could affect the 2014 governor’s race, but pollsters from both parties suggest its impact would be minimal.

Even if the Supreme Court allows the proposal to proceed to the November ballot, amendment sponsors will still need to gather 683,149 voter-signatures by Feb. 1. People United says it has about 500,000 signed petitions, fewer than half of which have been verified.

To pass, an amendment needs 60 percent voter support, a significant challenge.

During oral arguments Thursday, the state Supreme Court justices will focus on whether the proposed amendment limits itself to one subject, is clear and whether its ballot title or 75-word ballot summary are misleading.

The ballot summary’s language has drawn the most criticism. It says medical marijuana would be reserved for those who suffer from “debilitating diseases.”

But the language is open to wide interpretation, says Bondi’s court briefs, which are echoed by filings from state House and Senate leaders, an anti-drug group and powerful lobbies that include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Medical Association and the associations representing police chiefs and sheriffs.  Continue Reading....