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- 2014 - January - 28th -

Marijuana vote gets OK in tight Supreme Court vote

By Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

A narrowly divided Florida Supreme Court paved the way for state voters to decide whether doctors should be allowed to prescribe marijuana as a treatment for some conditions.

By a 4-3 margin, the court ruled that the summary of a constitutional amendment that voters will see at the polls isn't deceptive, swatting away arguments from Attorney General Pam Bondi and legislative leaders that the proposal is actually far broader than the summary lets on.

"We conclude that the ballot title and summary fairly inform voters of the chief purpose of the amendment and will not mislead voters, who will be able to cast an intelligent and informed ballot as to whether they want a provision in the state constitution authorizing the medical use of marijuana, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, under Florida law," the majority wrote in a joint opinion.

Joining the majority were Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, James E.C. Perry and Peggy Quince. Chief Justice Ricky Polston dissented, along with Justices Charles Canady and Jorge Labarga, who normally votes with the other four justices.

The battle largely turned on whether two phrases would give voters the wrong view of the amendment.

First, while the ballot language says that people with "debilitating diseases" would be eligible to get pharmacological pot, the amendment would allow a doctor to prescribe marijuana to a patient with "a debilitating medical condition."

Some opponents also argue that a section of the summary saying the amendment "[d]oes not authorize violations of federal law" might wrongly lead voters to believe that federal government allows marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

In a dissent, Polston said the ruling "will result in Floridians voting on a constitutional amendment in disguise." He said the amendment would allow a far wider use of pot than the ballot suggests.

"For example, despite what the title and summary convey to voters, minor aches and pains, stress, insomnia, or fear of an upcoming flight could qualify for the medical use of marijuana under the text of the amendment," Polston wrote. "This is seriously misleading."

Democrats, who are expected to benefit from increased turnout of young and socially liberal voters, applauded the ruling.

"We need to quit devoting government resources to meddling in the lives of people who are suffering and focus our resources on making life better and more productive for the citizens of Florida," said George Sheldon, a Democratic candidate for attorney general.

However, Republicans blasted the ruling.

"Make no mistake: this is not about compassionate medical marijuana," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "This is about the Coloradofication of Florida, where the end game is a pot shop on every street corner."

In a statement issued by his office, Gov. Rick Scott took a more measured approach.

"I have a great deal of empathy for people battling difficult diseases and I understand arguments in favor of this initiative," Scott said. "But, having seen the terrible effects of alcohol and drug abuse first-hand, I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path and I would personally vote against it."

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