On November 4, Florida voters will have the opportunity to vote on an amendment to their state constitution, Amendment 2, to establish a medical marijuana program in that state. This vote is especially important as it would be the first southern state to legalize medical use, and would likely encourage other states in the region to take a serious look at the use of marijuana as a medicine for seriously ill patients.
Why A Constitutional Amendment?
Fearful that the conservative Republican state legislature would have passed legislation overriding such a change, if it were simply a state law changed by voter initiative, People United for Medical Marijuana, the sponsor of this proposal, elected to try to include the policy changes as an amendment to the state constitution. Amendment 2, the Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions initiative, must therefore receive 60 percent of votes cast to be enacted as a constitutional amendment, a high goal and a real challenge for any proposal to meet. That decision is one that may be instructive for future voter initiatives, with most polls currently showing we will win a majority of votes, but likely less than 60 percent.
If Amendment 2’s backers had sought a majority vote, a victory would have kept the national momentum moving ahead full steam. Even if the state legislature had the courage to ignore the will of a majority of the voters and took steps to amend or repeal the law the following year, which was not a certainty, the statement made by voters in Florida would have moved the legalization movement forward nationally, and especially in the south. Unfortunately, if the current proposal wins majority support but fails to achieve the 60 percent required for enactment, the results will be widely reported as a defeat for medical use and a victory for the forces of ignorance and fear.
The proposed amendment would permit authorized medical marijuana treatment centers to legally cultivate and sell medical marijuana to approved patients. Patients would not be allowed to grow their own marijuana.
Specifically, the measure would guarantee the following:
- That medical use of marijuana by a qualifying patient in private is not subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions under state law.
- That a licensed physician is not subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions for issuing medical marijuana certification to a person diagnosed with a “debilitating medical condition” under state law.
- That registered medical marijuana treatment centers are not subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions under state law.
To be approved for medical use, a patient would first have to get a written certification from their physician that the patient has a “debilitating” medical condition, and that the use of medical marijuana by the patient would likely outweigh the potential health risks. Qualifying conditions include cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV, AIDS, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or “other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”[ Additionally, the physician must note how long he or she recommends the patient use marijuana.
Patients would then submit their physician certifications to the Department of Health, which would issue patients identification cards. The Health Department is also charged with issuing implementing regulations, which must be promulgated within six months after approval of the amendment. Those regulations would include a determination of the quantity of marijuana “that could reasonably be presumed to be an adequate supply,” the presumptive amount a patient would be permitted to possess. That finding could be overcome with evidence that a specific patient’s condition requires a larger amount.
A patient can designate a caregiver, but the caregiver can only help the patient obtain or use his medical marijuana; caregivers could not personally use medical marijuana.
Nothing in the proposed amendment would change the current Florida laws regarding DUID offenses, nor would it protect patients from being fired by an employer for failing a drug test, without any showing of impairment on the job.
Also, there is no language in the proposal providing reciprocity with patients authorized in other medical use states.
Amendment 2 has been endorsed by the Florida AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union of Florida, Florida NAACP, The Gainesville Sun, the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, Florida State Democratic Party, as well as the Broward County and Saratoga County Democratic Party,
Conflicting Polling Results
Again, the polls measuring public support for Measure 2 have been inconsistent, though generally supportive, until now.
A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, released on July 28, 2014, indicated that 88 percent of Florida’s voters favor legalization of medical marijuana, suggesting that the initiative may be on the path to victory. But that survey asked about support for medical marijuana as a concept, without reference to Amendment 2. That same survey found 70 percent support for Measure 2.
On September 1, in a separate poll, Gravis Marketing found 64 percent support specifically for Measure 2.
On September 4, a poll conducted by the University of Florida found only 57 percent support for the proposal. And on September 9, Public Policy Polling found 61 percent support for Amendment 2 down slightly from the 65 percent PPP found when they asked the question in June; 33 percent of voters said they were opposed. The other 6 percent were undecided.
And now comes two of the latest polling results. The first, released on October 13, commissioned by SaintPetersBlog and taken by St. Pete Polls, showing 52 percent support for Amendment 2, while 39 percent oppose it and the remaining voters are undecided. When the undecided voters were asked if they are leaning one way or the other, opposition to Amendment 2 rose to 40 percent while support moved to 54 percent. The second, commissioned by the Tampa Bay Times, found only 48 percent. support, with 44 percent. opposed, and 7 percent. undecided. And as we know, the threshold for passing a constitutional amendment in Florida is 60 percent. It appears the support for this amendment has dramatically tanked.
Some confusion because of the governor’s race, resulting in big bucks on both sides
Some expects expect the ballot measure will have a significant impact on the 2014 governor’s race, as the state’s governor will be elected the same day Amendment 2 is voted on. The two leading candidates have directly opposing views on the issue.
Former governor Charlie Crist, who won election as a Republican in 2007, is running as a Democrat this time. He supports Amendment 2. His opponent, Republican incumbent Rick Scott, opposes it. The issue has ended up in the middle of the campaign for governor.
High-profile Orlando attorney and major Democratic fundraiser John Morgan, who heads the law firm where Crist worked since leaving office, has contributed more than $4 million in support of Amendment 2. Morgan is an advocate for medical use. His late father found it helpful when he was dying of cancer, and his brother, who was paralyzed in a traffic accident, uses marijuana to deal with chronic pain.
Morgan expects Amendment 2 to attract a larger than normal number of younger voters to the polls, which he thinks will help elect Christ as governor. His investment in getting the initiative on the ballot was a political “two-fer.”
On the other side of the issue we find Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., among the wealthiest people in the world and one of the biggest donors to Republicans, matching Morgan’s Amendment 2 contribution. Adelson, who spent $150 million supporting GOP candidates in the 2012 elections — most of them losers — has spent $4 million funding a group known as the Drug Free Florida Committee, a political action committee that funds the No-on-Measure 2 campaign, formed by Mel Sembler. That accounts for 87 percent of all funds raised by this opposition group.
Sembler, who bankrolled opposition to Colorado’s recreational legalization initiative, once oversaw a chain of for-profit drug abuse treatment centers for teens called Straight, Inc., which he eventually had to close after a number of civil judgements finding the organization guilty of false imprisonment as well as physical and psychological abuse of the teens.
Amendment 2 is also opposed, not surprisingly, by the Florida Police Chiefs Association; the Florida Sheriffs Association; the Florida Chamber of Commerce; and the Florida Medical Association. Former Florida governor, and likely presidential candidate, Jeb Bush has also come out against Amendment 2.
Early voting in Florida begins on October 20.