TALLAHASSEE — The Supreme Court listened to 60 minutes of arguments Thursday over 74 words that could let voters decide whether to allow marijuana use for medical reasons.
A lawyer for Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi said voters will be misled into approving widespread use of medical marijuana and urged the court not to allow the proposal on the 2014 ballot, while a lawyer for proponents said voters will clearly know they are allowing doctors to use their expertise on whether to prescribe the drug for debilitating conditions.
The court will not rule on whether it approves of medical marijuana, but rather whether the 74-word ballot summary is misleading or not. Citizen initiatives are limited to 75 words when summing up a proposed constitutional amendment — a condition that Justice Barbara Pariente said makes it difficult for people circulating petitions to put an issue on the ballot.
Allen Winsor, Bondi's solicitor general, told the court that voters would read the summary and think they were voting on whether to allow medical marijuana for people with debilitating diseases only, but the actual amendment allows doctors to also prescribe it for debilitating conditions, which could be chronic pain.
"You don't even have to have a disease to get marijuana," Winsor said.
While the summary states medical marijuana could be prescribed by doctors for patients with debilitating diseases, the title of the ballot question is "Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions." Former House Speaker Jon Mills said that read together, voters would know that the amendment would be applied to diseases and medical conditions.
John Morgan of the personal injury law firm Morgan & Morgan has spent more than $1 million on the petition drive. Supporters need to gather 683,149 voter signatures by Feb. 1. So far 136,458 signatures have been certified. Morgan said about 400,000 petitions have been collected.
A Quinnipiac University poll last month showed that 82 percent of voters approve of medical marijuana.
After the arguments, Morgan expressed confidence that the ballot summary will be approved. And if it isn't — or if the petition drive fails — he said the issue will be brought up again during the 2016 election.
"Everybody here knows that one day medical marijuana will be legal in Florida," Morgan said. "Whether it's in 2014 or '24, it's going to happen ... The people want what they want. At the end of the day the people are going to get what they want. And I would say to the politicians who are trying to thwart this, it could very well be a referendum on your re-election."
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