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State high court sounds doubtful on medical marijuana

Published:   |   Updated: December 5, 2013 at 10:07 PM

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Supreme Court justices expressed doubt Thursday about the validity of the title and ballot summary for a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana.

Both sides argued their cases after the state challenged the proposed change, slated for the 2014 ballot.

A ruling is due no later than April 1. A decision in the state’s favor could stop the measure from getting on the ballot in time for the next statewide election. Amendments need to be approved by a 60-percent majority of Florida voters.

Florida Solicitor General Allen Winsor told justices the language was unclear and misleading, while Jon Mills, lawyer for the group behind medical marijuana, said it “doesn’t have to be perfect.”

The back-and-forth focused on two points: Whether the text makes a distinction between “diseases” and “debilitating medical conditions,” and whether it makes clear that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

“You don’t even have to have a ‘disease’ to get marijuana under this amendment,” Winsor said.

The state’s brief had argued that by leaving “no condition off limits, physicians could authorize marijuana for anything, any time, to anyone, of any age.”

Justice Barbara Pariente mused whether doctors would be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana for “chronic back pain” or even “bad test anxiety” under the amendment.

“Although I guess for a student, (that’s) not a great thing to do before an exam,” she added.

Mills, a former Florida House speaker and past University of Florida law school dean, earlier had told the court that a set list of applicable uses wouldn’t be acceptable because doctors need to exercise judgment.

Justice Charles Canady also pointed out that the amendment is “confusing” in that it would allow medical marijuana under state law while it’s still illegal under federal law.

Don’t underestimate the knowledge of the average voter, Mills suggested, saying, “... I think we can expect the voter to understand something about the context of this.”

Marijuana is still a controlled substance, making the distribution of marijuana a federal crime. The Obama administration, though, has suggested to federal prosecutors that they not press charges against those who legally distribute medical marijuana under a state law.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Florida voters support medical marijuana 82 percent to 16 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last month.

People United for Medical Marijuana is the committee behind the initiative and is led by prominent personal-injury attorney John Morgan of Orlando.


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