Florida Supreme Court hears arguments on proposed medical marijuana amendment
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office is arguing that a proposed constitutional amendment allowing marijuana for medical reasons would go beyond what voters would be led to believe.
That's the case a lawyer for Bondi made before the Supreme Court Thursday in an effort to keep the proposal off the 2014 ballot.
Allen Winsor told the court the ballot summary says medical marijuana would be used for debilitating diseases, but the full language of the amendment allows it to be used for debilitating conditions.
We played an excerpt recorded from The Florida Channel in which Winsor responds to questioning from Justices R. Fred Lewis and Barbara Pariente.
A lawyer for the medical marijuana amendment proponents argued that voters aren't being misled. The title of the proposed ballot item states that it is for the use under certain medical conditions.
The court will rule on whether the ballot language itself, not on the merits of the issue.
"It seems to me, reading this summary, ballot summary and title, that the voter is on notice that there will be limitations on the use of marijuana in this state and that the physician is going to be key because it says it's determined by the condition. If the voter is more concerned about how broad it is then they go to the amendment. Now the amendment, you're saying it says one thing but proponents say no, it's not that broad so, again, it seems that the problem may be in the drafting of the amendment as opposed to in the title and summary. How do we deal with that?"
"Well you deal with it by looking at what the summary says and asking whether a voter would be affirmatively misled and they would. You're right..."
"At what part would they be affirmatively misled about?"
"The very first words of the proposal, of the summary; allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed physician. And the sponsor has acknowledged that you don't have to have any disease to have medical marijuana."
"So it's back to this disease condition, you say. Now what is, tell me the difference because again I guess with condition and disease I just wasn't focusing on that, with why that is a fatal flaw that somebody thinks a disease is debilitating...if I'm debilitated because of something medical, whether I call it a condition or a disease, that's what I'm concerned about. What is it that's so important about the difference between one being a condition versus a disease that makes it affirmatively misleading?"
"Because of the scope of the use, how extensive it is. This many people may have diseases, this many people have medical conditions that are not diseases. If you...Chief Justice Polson's example of it, of a person suffering anxiety, some of the examples we talked about in our briefs, automobile accidents..."
"I'm hearing the proponents saying the intent of this amendment and reading the different sections together is not to allow it for these minimal situations."
"I'm not talking exclusively about minimal situations, we're talking about a football injury. That's not considered a disease and you've not heard the sponsor tell you, to my knowledge, that a football injury would not be covered by this. Back pain, all of those things that are not diseases. The word disease doesn't even appear in the amendment itself except in the context of the name of Parkinson's disease. They chose a word for the summary that's not in their amendment."
"So if someone has debilitating back pain that is to say it is not a disease therefor a voter would know, even though the title says certain medical conditions they would think 'well back pain isn't included' I mean chronic debilitating back pain."
"I think a voter would read the summary which talks exclusively about debilitating diseases and think that anyone without a valid debilitating disease will not be eligible for marijuana. Now I'd like to talk about another issue, separate from this disease issue, that we haven't talked about yet and that's the issue of federal law. A voter walking into the voting booth would walk out thinking that medical marijuana is lawful under federal law because of the choices that the sponsor made in putting the summary together. In fact, marijuana is illegal under federal law for medical use or otherwise and every step of the process that this amendment would authorize; the growing, the transportation, the selling, the buying, the smoking of marijuana would be a federal criminal offense."
"The last sentence of the summary specifically states 'does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use of possession or production of marijuana.'
"That's right. And what that tells voters, Justice Lewis is that A: the medical use of marijuana is not a violation of federal law. If you said for example..."
"No this says it does not authorize violations of federal law."
"It says that, Justice Lewis, right after it says what it does authorize which is the medical use of marijuana. It says we authorize the use of medical marijuana, we do not authorize the violation of federal law. So voters would think necessarily, those things are distinct. Imagine if the summary said, 'we will allow marijuana but we will not allow any Schedule One substances.' What does that communicate to the voter other than that marijuana is not a Schedule One substance and it is."
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