Florida Justices Question Wording Of Medical Marijuana Ballot Measure

, Daily Business Review

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During oral arguments Thursday before the Florida Supreme Court, an advocate for a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana struggled to defend the wording of a ballot measure that the attorney general claims is misleading.

The state and a coalition of business, medical and law enforcement groups are trying to keep the amendment off the 2014 general election ballot introduced in a July 10 petition by People United for Medical Marijuana.

Allen Winsor, solicitor general for Attorney General Pam Bondi, told the court the ballot summary would lead voters to think marijuana prescriptions would be limited to people with debilitating diseases, but the full text refers only to "debilitating medical conditions" and contains a clause that could open prescriptions to a broad scope of ailments.

Justice Charles Canady, questioning ballot advocate Jon Mills of Boies, Schiller & Flexner in Miami, said the question of misleading wording, as he understood it, turns on what to make of the phrase "or other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

If that is interpreted the way the attorney general claims, Canady asked Mills if he agreed that would be misleading.

Mills said the full text is accurate if the ballot title, "Use of marijuana for certain medical conditions," is taken into account when reading the summary, which does not again mention conditions but refers only to debilitating diseases.

The two main challenges to the amendment are whether the wording meets the single-subject rule applied to constitutional amendments and whether it accurately portrays the effects of the full text.

Justice R. Fred Lewis suggested the language contains such a broad "catchall" that a doctor could prescribe marijuana for anything.

Mills argued the amendment is intended to narrow the scope of conditions. The full text specifies marijuana's use for cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.

He said the "other conditions" language was included because medicine is always evolving and other seriously debilitating illnesses would arise in the future. But Mills insisted the list of conditions must be read in context with the subsection detailing the doctor's duties.

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