John Doe lives in Florida. He received radiation therapy for cancer. He had severe and debilitating throat pain, loss of appetite and an inability to sleep because of the pain.
He was given a prescription for oxycodone. Oxycodone is an addictive opiate that can cause death. If John had lived in any of 23 states other than Florida, he would have had the option to consider medical marijuana. Amendment 2 would allow John and patients like him to consult with their doctors to see if medical marijuana is a good option.
I participated in drafting the amendment. The intent of the framers was to provide compassionate care for Floridians with debilitating medical conditions. Opponents suggest that the amendment will allow someone with post-nasal drip to obtain medical marijuana. The Florida Supreme Court has already said that’s not the law:
“Rather than an open-ended broad use of marijuana, these multiple restrictions in the text of the amendment itself reflect a constitutional scheme that is meant to be limited in scope regarding the medical use of marijuana to treat ‘debilitating medical conditions.’”
That is the law, but opponents ignore it in an attempt to mislead Floridians into thinking Amendment 2 will make marijuana freely available. In fact, the amendment has tough restrictions requiring Florida physicians to conduct a physical exam and specifically find a debilitating medical condition. That doctor’s authorization must be filed with the Department of Health and the patient must obtain a personal identification card.
The DOH will have a record of each doctor and patient. If you’re thinking that it will be more difficult to get medical marijuana than a prescription for oxycodone, you’re right.
Opponents also claim that children under 18 could obtain medical marijuana without their parents’ permission. That is absolutely inaccurate. Florida law requires parental consent for the treatment of minors. Nothing in Amendment 2 changes that. A doctor who examined a minor and certified use of medical marijuana without parental consent would be guilty of malpractice, battery and several other crimes.
To ensure that Amendment 2 would be implemented in a manner consistent with its spirit, a non-partisan commission was created to draft a template of sound and balanced policies that could be used by the Legislature to create a carefully regulated and effective program. The commission consists of Democrats, Republicans, doctors, law enforcement officers, patients, business people and farmers. It was an honor to serve with such sincere and caring individuals.
The commission has made specific suggestions consistent with the amendment, including creating a patient registry to ensure that doctors are accountable, requiring follow-up visits with patients to assure continuing care, and requiring doctors to receive continuing education to be authorized to certify medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana is a good option for some medical conditions. Former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders has said, “[t]he evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS...And it can do so with remarkable safety....[It] is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.” In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals one of the best reasons to vote for Amendment 2. The study found that in states that have authorized use of medical marijuana, the number of deaths from opiate overdose has dropped by 20 percent or more. The rational implementation of Amendment 2 can literally save lives here in Florida.
Florida is poised to establish the best medical marijuana program in the country. Non-partisan stakeholders have already composed smart policy that provides patients access they need. It’s time to give people like John an option. I understand how people like John Doe feel because that John Doe was me.
Jon Mills is a state constitutional law professor, former Speaker of the Florida House and dean emeritus of the University of Florida College of Law. He defended the Amendment 2 ballot wording before the Florida Supreme Court.