According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, Floridians support legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes by a whopping 82-16 margin crossing all party lines. Frustrated by decades of inaction by the Florida Legislature, citizens have taken it into their own hands to put the issue directly before voters through a citizens’ initiative.
The issue should be whether Florida wants to join 20 other states and the District of Columbia in making medical marijuana available to its residents suffering from debilitating illnesses.
Instead, those in leadership positions in both the legislative and executive branches are busy trying to prevent the issue from making it to the ballot by filing briefs before the Florida Supreme Court. Their goal is to have the Medical Marijuana Citizens Initiative removed from ballot consideration even if the necessary 684,000 signatures are gathered.
Over the past two decades, the Legislature has opposed addressing any form of legalization of marijuana; it has made a concerted effort to limit citizens’ initiatives; and it has used legislatively proposed constitutional amendments to drive voter turnout.
We take pain-medication addiction very seriously in Florida, passing some of the most stringent regulations to cut down on the abuse of prescription drugs through legislation intended to stop the proliferation of “pill mills”.
Yet, legislative leaders refuse to consider the use of medical marijuana despite the growing body of medical evidence as to its beneficial uses.
Among its many uses, medical marijuana has been touted as successful for fighting nausea and increasing appetite for those under radiation treatment for cancer as well as treating muscle tightness for those with multiple sclerosis.
Also in play is the Legislature’s disdain of citizens’ rights to direct democracy when elected officials refuse to listen to the public will through representative democracy. The Legislature proposed three constitutional amendments making it more difficult for citizens to use the initiative process to amend their Constitution, along with raising the threshold for passage of all constitutional amendments to 60 percent.
Ironically, the majority of constitutional amendments were placed on the ballot by the Legislature and not by citizens. In the 2012 election, all 11 ballot amendments were proposed by the Legislature.
And, of course, there are the political ramifications. The state attorney general, joined by the Senate president and the speaker of the House, are challenging the wording of the amendment claiming that the ballot summary and title are misleading.
Cynically, one might question their sincerity as their own amendments have been much more confusing to voters. Take, for example, this title on the 2012 ballot: “Property Tax Limitations; Property Value Decline; Reduction For Nonhomestead Assessment Increases; Delay of Scheduled Repeal.” Clear as mud.
The title under dispute? “Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions.”
An accusation frequently made is that well-known attorney John Morgan, who is leading this effort to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, is a close friend and employer of gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and that his motivation is to help turn out the vote. But while medical marijuana may play a factor in turnout, the recent poll shows that support crosses all party lines.
Since Republicans have been in control for the last 18 years, they have placed tax relief and social issues such as abortion, religious freedom and gambling on the ballot in an effort to turn out their base. Not a bad strategy.
To the official line that Republican leaders in the executive and legislative branches are challenging the language to protect voters from being misled, I say, baloney.
The legislative session starts in March, when they can easily rewrite language. They also have the ability to legalize medical marijuana in statute making the constitutional amendment unnecessary. But don’t hold your breath. Their failure to act over the years is a clear indication they don’t want it to pass despite overwhelming public support.
Missing in all this political gamesmanship is the willingness to give relief to those suffering with debilitating illness inexpensively and with little risk.
So stop the posturing and lead on this issue, or just get out of the way and let the people do it.