Florida’s medical marijuana initiative is back and, its backers say, new and improved.
 
~ (FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2014 file photo, Larry Heiny of Sarasota rallies the crowd after a USF medical marijuana rally in Tampa, Fla. Florida newspaper editors voted the campaign to legalize marijuana in the state of Florida as one of the top stories of the year. The measure fell short of the 60 percent needed for passage. Tampa Bay Times, Cherie Diez, File AP Photo)
 
 
The proposed amendment, submitted Thursday to the Florida Secretary of State’s office, closely resembles the 2014 initiative that narrowly failed at the ballot box — however it was rewritten throughout in an attempt to quiet critics who said it had too many loopholes.
 
The amendment backers, People United for Medical Marijuana, on Monday will start gathering the 683,149 voter signatures needed to get the measure on the 2016 ballot.
 
“I’mmmmmmmm baaaaaaaaaack,” joked John Morgan, the wealthy Orlando trial lawyer who sunk about $4 million of his own money into last year’s effort.
 
Florida’s medical marijuana initiative is back, says John Morgan, the wealthy Orlando trial lawyer who sunk about $4 million of his own money into last year’s effort. The proposed amendment, submitted Thursday to the Florida Secretary of State’s office, closely resembles the 2014 initiative that narrowly failed at the ballot box — however it was rewritten throughout in an attempt to quiet critics who said it had too many loopholes. | Courtesy of John Morgan 
 
“Last time I did this, it was like a maze,” Morgan says. “Well, I’ve been through it once. I know how to do this. We made a lot of mistakes and we won’t make them this time.”
 
The new proposal specifies that parents would have to consent if their child is to receive medical marijuana. It adds extra language to clarify that only people with “debilitating medical conditions” can receive the drug. It makes sure to say that it can only be recommended by a licensed medical physician. And the Department of Health would be empowered to deny felons the ability to be so-called “caregivers” who deliver marijuana for a qualified patient.
 
All of those issues were brought up by opponents in 2014. But it’s not as if last year’s amendment was unpopular. It garnered 57.6 percent of the vote. However, it failed because it takes 60 percent to pass an amendment to the state Constitution.
 
Months before the election, the proposal was polling in the 70 percent range. However, a group called Drug Free Florida, led by Republican financier and former Ambassador Mel Sembler, outspent and out-advertised Morgan’s group in the final months of the election by a ratio of about 3 to 1.
 
Nearly all of Drug Free’s advertising money came from Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate and friend of Sembler’s, who contributed $5.5 million. Adelson, who opposes illegal drugs, gave the money primarily because of his friendship with Sembler, a spokesman said.
 
This year, though, Adelson might focus more on his home state of Nevada where proponents are trying to legalize marijuana outright. There are 23 states that allow for medical marijuana.
 
“He has not made any determination as to the next specific steps but the Adelsons remain committed to the cause,” spokesman Andy Aboud said.
 
A Sembler group affiliated with Drug Free Florida, Drug Free America, said it still has problems with the gist of any medical-marijuana ballot amendment.
 
“To create medicine through a ballot initiative in our state constitution we don’t think is a smart thing to do. Just the process itself we would object to,” said Drug Free America’s executive director, Calvina Fay.
 
Fay said the group is “very much” in favor of research and the prescribing of a marijuana derivative, called “Marinol.” But, she said, the group opposes smoked marijuana because it’s an unsafe “delivery system.”
 
Opponents said last year’s medical marijuana amendment was a “smokescreen” for legalizing marijuana outright. And, they said, it would allow children and felons legal access to the drug too easily.
 
People United’s executive director, Ben Pollara, said all those claims weren’t true. But the new amendment was tweaked anyway to settle those concerns.
 
“But no matter what we propose it won’t be enough to prevent the opposition from crafting an intellectually dishonest argument,” Pollara said.
 
After the November elections, Drug Free’s top consultant, Tre’ Evers, said in a memo the amendment would lose again, even if it’s reworded. He also said that, despite the high percentage it received at the ballot box, the amendment wouldn’t lead the GOP-dominated Legislature to deal with the issue because it’s so unpopular among Republicans.
 
“Because most legislative races are decided in primaries. Amendment 2 exceeded 60 [percent] in only 9 of Florida’s 67 counties. It will not be lost on Republican legislators (who now control 81 of 120 House seats) that conservatives opposed Amendment 2 by a 2-to-1 margin,” Evers wrote. “As Tip O’Neill famously said, ‘All politics is local.’ And for most legislators, it makes little sense to them locally or within their primaries to liberalize drug laws.”
 
Morgan said he hopes the Legislature will change its mind and legalize medical marijuana. If it doesn’t act, he said he can campaign against the lawmakers.
 
After years of refusing to even consider medical marijuana, the Legislature last year passed a scaled-back low-THC medical marijuana bill only after Morgan’s proposal appeared headed for the ballot. The so-called “Charlotte’s Web” law has been mired in red tape and legal challenges and is likely help few people.
 
“Before, people thought this issue didn’t belong in Florida’s Constitution,” Morgan said. “But now it’s clear that the Legislature is incapable of doing the right thing with this.”
 
Morgan said the Legislature’s intransigence and the amendment’s wording isn’t the only thing that has changed. The electorate will be different in a presidential election year because it’s younger and less conservative.
 
Florida exit polls last November showed younger voters were more likely to support the amendment.
 
Those voters aged 18-29 voted 79-21 percent for the amendment; 30-44 year olds backed it 65-35 percent; and those 45-64 supported it 60-40 percent. Only voters 65 and older opposed it as a group, with 62 percent against and only 38 percent in favor. Had the younger voters turned out in higher numbers or if the most-senior voters not opposed it so greatly, the amendment likely would have won.
 
A post-election analysis by Morgan’s pollster indicated that, if the amendment appeared on a presidential-election ballot, it would have likely passed by 60 percent at least.
 
Also, Morgan said, the amendment should get a boost from the fact that Charlie Crist, Morgan’s friend and employee who ran for governor in 2014, won’t be on the ballot. Some Republicans felt that Morgan was using the amendment to help Crist.
 
“Clearly, I’m not doing this for Charlie,” Morgan said.
 
Proposed 2016 amendment versus 2014 amendment
 
People United for Medical Marijuana has drafted a 2016 proposed constitutional amendment that makes numerous changes to its 2014 proposal. A look at the differences in the wording:
 
2016 Title: Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions
 
2014 Title: Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions
 
2016: Does not immunize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.
 
2014: Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.
 
2016: Allows medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician.
 
2014: Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician.
 
2016: A physician shall not be subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions under Florida law solely for issuing a physician certification with reasonable care to a person diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition in compliance with this section.
 
2014: A physician licensed in Florida shall not be subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions under Florida law for issuing a physician certification to a person diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition in a manner consistent with this section.
 
2016: “Debilitating Medical Condition” means cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.
 
2014: (1) “Debilitating Medical Condition” means cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.
 
2016: “Marijuana” has the meaning given cannabis in Section 893.02(3), Florida Statutes (2014), and, in addition, “Low-THC cannabis” as defined in Section 381.986(1)(b), Florida Statutes (2014), shall also be included in the meaning of the term “marijuana.”
 
2014: “Marijuana” has the meaning given cannabis in Section 893.02(3), Florida Statutes (2013).
 
2016: “Medical use” means the acquisition, possession, use, delivery, transfer, or administration of an amount of marijuana not in conflict with Department rules, or of related supplies by a qualifying patient or caregiver for use by the caregiver’s designated qualifying patient for the treatment of a debilitating medical condition.
 
2014: “Medical use” means the acquisition, possession, use, delivery, transfer, or administration of marijuana or related supplies by a qualifying patient or personal caregiver for use by a qualifying patient for the treatment of a debilitating medical condition.
 
2016: “Caregiver” means a person who is at least twenty-one (21) years old who has agreed to assist with a qualifying patient's medical use of marijuana and has qualified for and obtained a caregiver identification card issued by the Department. The Department may limit the number of qualifying patients a caregiver may assist at one time and the number of caregivers that a qualifying patient may have at one time.
 
Caregivers are prohibited from consuming marijuana obtained for medical use by the qualifying patient.
 
2014: “Personal caregiver” means a person who is at least twenty-one (21) years old who has agreed to assist with a qualifying patient's medical use of marijuana and has a caregiver identification card issued by the Department. A personal caregiver may assist no more than five (5) qualifying patients at one time. An employee of a hospice provider, nursing, or medical facility may serve as a personal caregiver to more than five (5) qualifying patients as permitted by the Department. Personal caregivers are prohibited from consuming marijuana obtained for the personal, medical use by the qualifying patient.
 
2016: “Physician” means a person who is licensed to practice medicine in Florida.
 
2014: “Physician” means a physician who is licensed in Florida.
 
2016: In order for a physician certification to be issued to a minor, a parent or legal guardian of the minor must consent in writing.
 
2014: No such language
 
2016: Nothing in this section allows for a violation of any law other than for conduct in compliance with the provisions of this section.
 
2014: No such language
 
2016: Nothing in this section shall affect or repeal laws relating to non-medical use, possession, production, or sale of marijuana.
 
2014: Nothing in this section shall affect laws relating to non-medical use, possession, production or sale of marijuana.
 
2016: Nothing in this section authorizes the use of medical marijuana by anyone other than a qualifying patient.
 
2014: Nothing in this section authorizes the use of medical marijuana by anyone other than a qualifying patient.
 
2016: Nothing in this section shall permit the operation of any vehicle, aircraft, train or boat while under the influence of marijuana.
 
2014: Nothing in this section allows the operation of a motor vehicle, boat, or aircraft while under the influence of marijuana.
 
2016: Nothing in this section requires the violation of federal law or purports to give immunity under federal law.
 
2014: Nothing in this law section requires the violation of federal law or purports to give immunity under federal law.
 
2016: Nothing in this section shall require any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana in any correctional institution or detention facility or place of education or employment, or of smoking medical marijuana in any public place.
 
2014: Nothing in this section shall require any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana in any place of education or employment, or of smoking medical marijuana in any public place.
 
2016: Nothing in this section shall require any health insurance provider or any government agency or authority to reimburse any person for expenses related to the medical use of marijuana.
 
2014: Nothing in this section shall require any health insurance provider or any government agency or authority to reimburse any person for expenses related to the medical use of marijuana.
 
2016: Nothing in this section shall affect or repeal laws relating to negligence or professional malpractice on the part of a qualified patient, caregiver, physician, MMTC, or its agents or employees.
 
2014: No such language
 
2016: Procedures for the issuance and annual renewal of qualifying patient identification cards to people with physician certifications and standards for renewal of such identification cards. Before issuing an identification card to a minor, the Department must receive written consent from the minor’s parent or legal guardian, in addition to the physician certification.
 
2014: Procedures for the issuance of qualifying patient identification cards to people with physician certifications, and standards for the renewal of such identification cards.
 
2016: Procedures establishing qualifications and standards for caregivers, including conducting appropriate background checks, and procedures for the issuance and annual renewal of caregiver identification cards.
 
2014: Procedures for the issuance of personal caregiver identification cards to persons qualified to assist with a qualifying patient’s medical use of marijuana, and standards for the renewal of such identification cards.
 
By Marc Caputo ~ 01/08/2015

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