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Politics

Pam Bondi challenges medical marijuana measure

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Published:   |   Updated: October 24, 2013 at 05:27 PM

TAMPA ­­— Attorney General Pam Bondi is asking the state Supreme Court to invalidate the language of a proposed constitutional amendment allowing medical use of marijuana in Florida — a move that, if successful, could derail the measure for this election cycle.

Bondi argued in a court filing the summary of the amendment that would appear on the ballot doesn’t give voters an accurate idea of the effect of the amendment and therefore shouldn’t be placed on the ballot.

Ben Pollara, campaign manager of the amendment drive, responded that Bondi is “an out-of-touch politician” and that the organization is “confident that the language of our amendment meets all the requirements of the Florida Supreme Court’s review.”

Pollara’s group, United for Care, has 111,867 verified petition signatures to put the amendment on the Nov. 4, 2014, ballot, more than required to trigger a court review of the ballot language. To get on the ballot, the measure requires 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1.

If the Court rejects the language, Pollara acknowledged, it would be practically impossible to come up with new language, circulate new petitions, get court approval of the new language, and obtain the necessary signatures by Feb. 1.

Orlando lawyer John Morgan of the Morgan & Morgan law firm, backing the amendment financially, told the Tribune in August the language was written with the help of University of Florida law professon Jon Mills, whom he called “the best constitutional lawyer in the state.”

Florida law requires a summary of 75 words or less and a title of 15 words or less to go on the ballot instead of the actual amendment language. It must accurately summarize the amendment.

Bondi argued that the amendment language would allow indiscriminate use of marijuana, not the controlled use the ballot summary suggests, and that the ballot summary “misleadingly suggests” medical use of marijuana doesn’t violate federal law.

The title is “Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions.” The summary reads in part: “Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. ... Does not authorize violations of federal law.”

Bondi said it’s misleading to say the amendment “allows the medical use of marijuana” because it’s still prohibited by federal law, and that the phrase “does not authorize violations of federal law” suggests there is no federal prohibition.

In the amendment, “debilitating disease” is defined as including cancer, AIDS, several other diseases, or “other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

That means, Bondi argued, that “Any physician could approve marijuana for seemingly any reason to seemingly any person,” not just for debilitating diseases.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce jumped in on Bondi’s side Thursday, saying the state Constitution shouldn’t be amended to deal with issues that could be handled by the state Legislature.

But Pollara said the state Legislature refused in its 2013 session to hear a bill on medical marijuana. He said Bondi, like the, is opposing “compassionate health care policy in Florida,” and “wants to deny Floridians the opportunity to even vote on this issue – despite numerous polls showing that an overwhelming majority of the state is supportive.”

He said his group is confident the language will be approved and that Floridians will vote for it “by a wide margin.”

wmarch@tampatrib.com

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