A do-over on medical marijuana for Florida

Medical marijuana sits on display in a store in Denver.
Medical marijuana sits on display in a store in Denver. MCT

It’s déjà vu all over again for Florida’s controversial medical marijuana amendment, which is back on the ballot in November, two years after it failed, barely, to get the necessary votes.

Back then, the measure received 58 percent approval — just short of the 60 percent required for an amendment to pass. But this time, there’s a different political scenario. A presidential election likely will double voter turnout — and the chances for the amendment’s passage.

The amendment is being spearheaded by John Morgan, an Orlando attorney who has spent millions on the effort. The measure won a do-over after Mr. Morgan’s organization collected 692,000 certified signatures — that’s 10,000 more than the minimum required. So many signatures can’t be ignored.

Mr. Morgan told the Miami Herald Editorial Board that the strategy this time is to reach out to those 60 and older. Those in this age group strongly rejected medical marijuana last time, yet they’re the ones most likely to tap into the relief it is said to offer those suffering from cancer, glaucoma and ALS. And to win over skeptical voters, Mr. Morgan tightened language in the original amendment that had been depicted as “loopholes” and could have allowed abuse by caretakers of the ill. “I think we’ve addressed those questions,” Mr. Morgan said.

He also said opposition to the proposal has waned. In 2014, the Miami Herald cautiously endorsed the passage of the first medical marijuana amendment — also called Amendment 2 — citing the benefit it likely would offer the state’s 400,000 chronically ill patients. Some who fought to defeat the measure at the time — like Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state’s sheriffs — are staying out of the fray for now. That appears to be a favorable sign.

There remain those who fear pot is a gateway drug and shouldn’t be legalized in any form. Fair enough.

But this is about sick people. 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, giving a patient the right to buy medical marijuana at dispensaries expected to spring up across the state.

Today, 23 states already permit medical cannabis use, and three more are poised to advance similar laws this year. Florida should join the group, primarily for the sake of an ailing population that wants it available.

The political mood is right for the measure. This week, in the Florida Legislature, a committee passed HB 307 to legalize full-strength medical marijuana for terminally ill patients. If approved by the full House, it will allow those with less than one year to live access to marijuana grown by five authorized distributors.

Still, Mr. Morgan accuses lawmakers of dropping the ball on the overall question of medical marijuana, forcing his push for a constitutional amendment. “They can’t get along long enough to get something passed on this issue,” he said.

In 2014, lawmakers approved the use of non-euphoric marijuana to treat seizures. Gov. Rick Scott signed the “Charlotte’s Web” law. Unfortunately, the state has been slow to establish rules regarding production and distribution. Meanwhile, those who seek relief by using this form of cannabis sit and wait.

Floridians have sent a signal they want medical marijuana. For humanitarian reasons, voters should approve the measure this time around.