Inevitable or illegal? Sides appeal to Florida Supreme Court over marijuana push

Consuming marijuana as medicine could be legal in Florida in less than a year.

But first, the Florida Supreme Court has to approve the language contained in a proposed ballot initiative that, with enough petition signatures, voters would see at the polls next November.

Florida’s high court heard oral arguments Thursday from Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office and the group behind the marijuana measure, United for Care.

Bondi wants the pot plan to go up in smoke. In an October filing, she said the amendment language is broad enough to “allow marijuana in limitless situations.”

Critics say her position is designed to thwart any legalization effort. But the justices themselves seemed unclear as to the scope of the actual constitutional amendment language.

At issue was the seemingly simple phrase, “or other conditions.”

Under the proposal, marijuana could be prescribed by a doctor for debilitating medical conditions such as AIDs, cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis, but also for other unspecified conditions.

“Can a student go to the doctor and say ‘I’m real stressed out,’ and can the doctor prescribe marijuana?” asked Chief Justice Ricky Polston.

“The (ballot) summary is potentially misleading if this is designed to be something to take for headaches or stress,” Justice Barbara Pariente said.

Jon Mills, attorney for United for Care, said the intent was not meant to include minimal diagnoses, but rather leave room for physicians to make judgement calls.

But in doing so, doctors potentially could have enough latitude to prescribe marijuana for conditions such as lower back pain and football injuries, the justices conceded.

“It depends on what a physician believes,” Justice Charles Canady said. “Not a reasonable physician, any physician that believes the benefits outweigh the risks. That’s a subjective standard.”

The measure further exempts doctors from any criminal or civil liabilities for prescribing marijuana.

“The physician in this situation is king,” said Pariente.

Further complicating the pot push is the fact that marijuana still is illegal under federal law.

The 75-word ballot summary states that the proposal “does not authorize violations of federal law,” something the state reminded the court was untrue.

“Everything this proposes is a violation of federal law,” Solicitor General Allen Winsor said.

While listed as a Schedule 1 drug drug under the Controlled Substance Act, medical marijuana is legal in 19 other states.

United for Care’s chairman and financial anchor is none other than John Morgan, a high-profile Democratic donor, top Charile Crist supporter and ubiquitous Florida personal injury lawyer from Orlando.

Outside the courthouse, Morgan told reporters that his marijuana effort has nothing to do with energizing voters that would likely vote for Crist if he became the Democratic nominee for governor.

“Look, everybody here knows that one day medical marijuana is going to be legal in Florida. We all know that. Tell me somebody that doesn’t know that,” Morgan said.

To prove his nonpartisan motivation, Morgan threw in this third-person zinger:

“John Morgan wants to give immunity to doctors for medical malpractice? My answer is: Hell yes I do. Because this is bigger than all that,” he said.

Contact William Patrick at

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