2nd Try at Medical Pot Amendment Gains Support in Florida

By JOE REEDY, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A proposed amendment to the state constitution to legalize medical marijuana has gained widespread support in Florida two years after falling just shy of passing.

Most state polls have support for Amendment 2 above the 60 percent threshold needed for approval. A similar measure was on the 2014 general election ballot and received 58 percent.

Supporters say they have listened to concerns from two years ago and changed the amendment’s wording to tighten oversight over the industry and protect children from harm.

In the meantime, the Florida Legislature has passed two measures allowing limited use of medical marijuana, though delays in implementing them have fed support for an amendment that would make it more broadly available.

Opponents say there still isn’t enough research proving the benefits in medical treatment. They also warn that the state will be overrun with pot shops and that children could illegally gain access to the drug.

If approved, Florida would be the 26th state along with the District of Columbia to legalize the marijuana plant for medical use. Florida is one of 16 states where only part of the marijuana plant is used.

“The legislature has failed to expand and open up the entire plant to use and only a narrow scope,” said Dennis Deckerhoff of Tallahassee, who says he will vote yes. “If the Legislature doesn’t want to do it, now it will be up to the voters.”

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CURRENT STATUTE

The Florida Legislature approved the use of medical marijuana for patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms in 2014 along with five distributing organizations. It was expanded earlier this year to include patients with terminal conditions under the Right to Try Act, and three more licenses were authorized once the patient registry reaches 125,000.

The amendment would widen the list of illnesses eligible for marijuana prescriptions, adding such ailments as post-traumatic stress disorder, AIDS and glaucoma.

So far, only three organizations have received distribution authorization. Two dispensaries are open in Tallahassee and Clearwater but home delivery is available statewide. Some counties and cities have passed zoning moratoriums on allowing dispensaries to open until they can do further research.

The state registry now has authorized 129 doctors and 470 patients, Department of Health spokesman Brad Dalton said.

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SUPPORTERS SAY LOOPHOLES HAVE BEEN CLOSED

John Morgan, who leads United for Care, notes that the latest amendment allows marijuana to be prescribed only for debilitating medical conditions. It also adds provisions that require parental written consent for patients who are minors, and requires caregivers to register with the Department of Health.

The measure mandates identification cards for caregivers and patients and puts the department in charge of regulating medical marijuana — as the state law also has done.

A lot of the rules and regulations — from how the marijuana is grown to regulations on how it can be transported for in-home delivery — were passed by the Legislature this past March would also apply under the constitutional amendment.

Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, said that the state’s two-year delay in getting low-THC cannabis to consumers has pushed support for the amendment.

“If anything the benefit of the past two years is that public opinion has moved forward a lot,” he said.

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OPPONENTS: “THIS IS A LEGISLATIVE MATTER”

Dr. Jessica Spencer, who is the Policy Director for No on 2, says there is no evidence that marijuana works as medicine and that the industry would be more difficult to manage if it is endorsed under the Florida Constitution.

“We need to be careful when we’re looking at constitutional amendments that they are perfect. This is not perfect,” Spencer said during a recent debate in Orlando.

Anti-amendment literature by opponents depict medical marijuana as candy and note that pot shops could be set up near schools.

Kenneth Bell, a former Florida Supreme Court justice, said he is not opposed to medical marijuana but that it should be handled by the legislative branch.

“The Legislature has already acted a couple times and this does not take into account some unintended consequences that could take place,” he said.

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