Editorials

Miami Herald Recommends: Constitutional amendments: Protect land, OK medical pot, reject judicial mischief

AMENDMENT 1

Florida’s natural environment is its bread and butter, its tourist magnet, its lush and storied history and, if voters approve this amendment, its glorious future.

Amendment 1 would use existing state revenue — money that already is being paid into state coffers — and dedicate it to purchase and preserve natural areas and wildlife habitat for the next 20 years.

This is not a new tax that advocates seek to impose. Rather, it’s a practical way to make up for what state lawmakers have for too long failed to do: Make preserving Florida’s fragile environment the priority that it should be. The amendment would take one third of the fees that the state already collects when property is sold. The fees on these real-estate transactions are called “doc stamps,” which, since 1968, have been used for water and land conservation.

But successive legislatures have acted irresponsibly and diverted these funds — as well as trust funds dedicated to other good causes — to plug budget holes elsewhere. Unfortunately, funding for such conservation projects has been cut 95 percent.

The amendment has the potential to raise $10 billion over 20 years, then it would sunset. The temporary nature of the proposal is as attractive as its sole mission — protecting vital water resources and wildlife habitat, restoring degraded ecosystems; and conserving an additional 2 million acres of privately owned land to save threatened rivers, springs and coastal areas. Its other mission is just as vital — keeping lawmakers’ hands out of this cookie jar. The Miami Herald recommends YES on Amendment 1.

AMENDMENT 2

We admit it. Making a recommendation on Amendment 2 has been a struggle for the Editorial Board. This is a game changer for the state, and we know it.

What Pandora’s Box would swing open? Remember the pill mills in Broward County? But how can we turn our backs on offering relief to the ill and infirm?

Amendment 2 would change the Florida Constitution to legalize medical marijuana. In its purest intent, it allows the chronically ill, those in pain or dying, supposedly with their doctor’s consent, to use medical marijuana to make their life more bearable.

As the most controversial amendment on the ballot, it has passionate opponents and proponents, who both make a good case for their side.

Opponents, who are not out of the Hollywood panic-classic Reefer Madness, are adamant this is the worst thing for the state, although Florida is not the first to approve medical marijuana. They say doctors will not be the ones writing prescriptions for the drug because Amendment 2 only requires “a recommendation.” They say the way Amendment 2 is worded allows someone who hasn’t undergone any medical training, or been subject to a background check, to become a “caregiver” to the marijuana patient. Under Amendment 2, caregivers are given total immunity.

But advocates say loopholes in Amendment 2 — by law, the wording is loosey-goosey — will all be regulated by the Florida Legislature.

Leading the opposition is Stephanie Haridopolos, a Melbourne doctor and wife of former state Sen. Mike Haridopolos. She told the Editorial Board she fears medical pot will be dispensed like Oxycodone was in Broward a decade ago and more people than ever will drive under the influence. Other opponents include the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The amendment has spilled into the governor’s race: Gov. Rick Scott opposes it; Charlie Crist supports it.

For those in favor, this amendment spells relief from pain, nausea and other conditions associated with their illness. Passage of the amendment means patients will go to a doctor, who can recommend they receive a medical-marijuana card. The card will be issued by the Florida Department of Health. With the card, the patient can buy medical marijuana at dispensaries expected to spring up in the state.

Of this we can be sure: The Legislature deserves particular condemnation here. Florida is at this juncture because state lawmakers didn’t do their jobs. They ignored medical marijuana completely until it looked like it would pass. They then passed a scaled-back law, Charlotte’s Web, that essentially will help no one with AIDS, cancer or ALS and was done almost exclusively to make it look like lawmakers care.

With some reluctance, the Miami Herald recommends a YES vote for Amendment 2.

AMENDMENT 3

Amendment 3 is a subversive idea that should never have made it onto the ballot: A proposal to allow lame-duck governors to make court appointments before a judicial seat is vacant.

Many voters will surely find themselves scratching their heads when they read the ballot language empowering the governor to fill “prospective vacancies,” which means a vacancy that doesn’t exist. This represents a complete change from today’s sensible standard: The governor in office makes judicial appointments as the vacancies occur.

The Legislature justified this silliness with talk about “clarifying” the appointment power and eliminating the possibility of prolonged court vacancies. Nonsense. The rules in place ensure smooth transitions when justices retire or are not retained in an election.

The proposal has nothing to do with solving a problem — which doesn’t exist — and everything to do with partisan politics in Tallahassee. It would confer on the outgoing governor the authority to fill three anticipated Supreme Court vacancies four years from now, at the same time that the governor’s term expires — thus taking the appointment power away from the incoming governor.

Voters should reject partisan politics’ intrusion into the judicial system. On Amendment 3, the Herald recommends voting NO.

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