The Florida Supreme Court has narrowly approved language for a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana for medical use, guaranteeing the measure a spot on the state’s November ballot.
Advocates have already collected well over the 683,000 signatures necessary to qualify the measure for the fall ballot. County officials have already validated a sufficient number of signatures. The court challenge was all that stood in their way.
In an 84-page opinion, the court ruled by a 4-3 margin that the proposal’s ballot summary was sufficiently clear. Republicans, led by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R), had challenged the language as misleading.
Justices debated whether the language made clear that medical marijuana could only be used to treat “debilitating” diseases, like cancer, AIDS and Parkinson’s. The three justices who dissented said the ballot summary was “seriously deceptive” and would do voters “a severe disservice.”
“Today’s ruling leaves the issue of medical marijuana in the hands of Florida’s voters. I encourage every Floridian to read the full amendment in order to understand the impact it could have on Floridians,” Bondi said in a statement after the court’s ruling.
The proposed amendment will share the ballot with a heated race between Gov. Rick Scott (R) and his predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist, who last won office as a Republican but is now a Democrat.
Crist, once dubbed “Chain Gang Charlie” for his tough-on-crime stands, says he supports legalizing marijuana for medical uses; Scott opposes the bill. Crist is heavily favored over former state Sen. Nan Rich in the Democratic primary.
Some Republicans worry the proposed amendment will drive turnout among younger voters, who disproportionately vote Democratic. Several Republicans recently voiced fears that the amendment was little more than a Trojan horse for the Crist campaign.
Opposition to the medical marijuana push is likely to come from Save Our Society from Drugs, a group run in part by Betty Sembler. Sembler’s husband, Mel, is a former ambassador and major Republican donor. The group’s executive director told the Tampa Tribune that the loopholes in the proposed amendment would create “de-facto marijuana legalization.”
In an interview earlier this month, Ben Pollara, who is running the pro-amendment campaign, said his group would aim to raise and spend at least $10 million.
If the amendment passes, Florida would join 18 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing medical patients to use marijuana. Two states, Washington and Colorado, allow legal purchases for non-medical use.
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in November showed a huge majority of Florida voters, 82 percent, backed allowing adults to use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes the drug. Just 16 percent of voters said they opposed marijuana for medical use.
The same poll showed a slim plurality — 48 percent — supported allowing adults to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Forty-six percent said they opposed recreational marijuana use.